From a fan’s standpoint, I believe the key to successfully preparing for a Game 7 is to resign yourself to the fact it’ll never happen in the first place. That’s the beauty of falling behind 3-1 in a series — simply extending the series to a winner-take-all game is a feat in itself when you’ve already written the thing off.
It worked last fall when I became a week-long fan of the San Francisco Giants for their National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and worked again this week when I wrote off the team that has actually been the focus of my life-long affinity, the Chicago Blackhawks.
So while others were nervous for Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings, I wasn’t. This was all icing on the cake. Frankly, this was probably the calmest I’d ever been for a big game that a team I was rooting for played in. Other people are typically not allowed to be in the same room with me during big games for their own safety.
And then the game actually started. For the first two periods, I still wasn’t too concerned. Even if Detroit scored first, the Hawks were capable of wiping out a one-goal deficit that early. And then when Patrick Sharp was the first to crack the scoreboard, I daresay I was even feeling confident. That, of course, was my first mistake.
The Wings scored in the first minute of the third, mirroring the Hawks revival late in Game 6. Then, the Hawks spent the next five minutes looking like they were skating around in quicksand, causing a noticeable rise in heart rate. Side note: why doesn’t anyone in movies get stuck in quicksand anymore? Maybe “Fast and Furious 7″ will bring it back into fashion.
Things remained tense throughout the third period, which suddenly felt like the first overtime for the final 10 minutes. And when Nicklas Hjalmarsson put the game-winner into the back of the net with 1:47 left on the clock…
WAIT, WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST CALL? THAT’S A PENALTY!?! WITH LESS THAN TWO MINUTES LEFT IN A GAME 7?!?!?!
With one untimely whistle by referee Stephen Walkom wiping out Hjalmarsson’s goal, all of the “icing on the cake” talk went out the window. This was suddenly looming as one of the worst losses of my post-Bartman life, with every breakable object within reach just one Detroit goal away from seeing its inanimate existence shattered.
Thank goodness for Dave Bolland.
He won’t go down as the hero in the box score, but it was Bolland’s bone-rattling check of Gustav Nyquist in the neutral zone that freed the puck up for Brent Seabrook to skate into Detroit’s zone unimpeded and fire the winning shot past the exceedingly frustrating-to-play-against Jimmy Howard.
Both Bolland and Seabrook had uncharacteristically played poorly for much of the series, surely giving both an even bigger sense of relief than that felt by Hawks fans. That’s the thing about this win — it wasn’t joyous as much as it was satisfying weight off the shoulders.
The Wings are the Hawks’ biggest rivals, and no one else is even in the subdivision. For most of the last two decades, that relationship has been a one-way street in Detroit’s favor. There’s no lower feeling in sports than seeing your team’s home arena overrun by the enemy chanting “Let’s Go Red Wings!” as was so often the case in the late ’90s and 2000s.
Still, those games were worth attending just because it was generally the only time in the Alexei Zhamnov era that the building had a playoff atmosphere. Generally, it didn’t turn out well. The one time I thought I was witnessing a Hawks win over the Wings, they squandered a 3-1 win in the final five minutes before yakking up the game-winner in the first minute of OT. An unfortunate United Center garbage can bore the brunt of my frustration that day.
Things are more even these days, and I will miss the rivalry when Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference next season. But as it turns out, the only thing better than winning a Game 7 is winning one where you can tell your arch-rivals not to let the door hit them in their ass on the way out.