Ghosts of Game 7s past swirl around both Oilers and Canucks

By Mark Spector, Sportsnet

It was here, in a west coast town that has somehow never found its share of puck luck, where it all seemed destined to get turned around one night in a Game 7 back in 2011.

No, not that Game 7.

The one 51 nights earlier, when the Canucks — who had blown a 3-0 series lead in Round 1 against their personal demons, the Chicago Blackhawks — had outplayed Chicago all night long, only to cough up a shorthanded goal with 1:56 to play that tied the game.

shorthanded goal, of all things, to force overtime of Game 7. Another chance to come up short, for an organization that was simply fed up with that label.

“Every inch, every shift matters,” Ryan Kesler said that night. “We were asking each other, who’s going to be the hero?”

Early in the overtime, there was an Alex Burrows penalty, a Jonathan Toews rush, a backdoor pass to a wide-open Patrick Sharp, and an audible gasp from 18,000 fans. But Roberto Luongo flashed his blocker to somehow save a Stanley Cup run that was still in its infancy — an incredible, season-saving stop — and the game would be won soon after on a wobbly puck slapper by Burrows.

Alas, that run would end in another Game 7, when the Boston Bruins crushed the Canucks souls in a 4-0 defeat.

“We want to be the guys to win games for this team. Tonight we didn’t do that,” the ever-accountable Daniel Sedin said as his city broiled, referring to he and his brother Henrik. “There are no excuses. Our only job is to score, and we didn’t do it.”

With those same Canucks hosting the Edmonton Oilers in a Round 2 finale Monday night at Rogers Arena — and suddenly, cruelly, Brock Boeser ruled out of the game due to blood clots — the ghosts of Game 7’s past swirl through the memories of two fan bases with so, so much material for both angst, and hope here in 2024.

An Oilers fan recalls Esa Tikkanen’s hat trick in Calgary in ’91, and Steve Smith’s own goal five years earlier against those same Flames.

Canucks fans have 1994 and the New York Rangers, ironically a roster stocked with Glory Years Oilers that had just enough left to deny Trevor Linden and the boys on yet another unanswered Canucks quest.

Edmonton won a Cup in Game 7 versus Philly in 1987, but they also had 2006, when Fernando Pisani and the eighth-place Oilers made that dream run to the Final. They lost goalie Dwayne Roloson in Game 1, and fell short by an eyelash in Game 7 to Rod Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes.

“You want it so bad,” 20-year vet Rod Brind’Amour said that night. “Not just for yourself, but for the guy sitting beside you. For your Dad. Your kids. There are so many people you’re thinking about who are pulling for you.

“It’s exhausting.”

We remember the thrill of Todd Marchant’s goal at old Reunion Arena in 1997, and the promise made two decades later after a Game 7 loss in Anaheim, by a young, hopeful Connor McDavid: “Come next season, we’ll find ourselves in a similar spot. And we’ll be able to look back on this, feel that disappointment, and know … how much that sucked.”

McDavid wouldn’t see the playoffs again for three more seasons, and wouldn’t win a series for five. But in 2022, McDavid laced ’em up for his next Game 7, in Round 1 against Los Angeles.

The Oilers captain owned that hockey game, playing over 27 minutes with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win. “That game, he definitely took over,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Sunday in Vancouver.

In a series where no team has won two straight, we’ve reached the moment where it will now have to go one way or another.

Did the Oilers finally break through in Game 6, ripping five pucks past Arturs Silovs for the first time in the series, romping to a 5-1 victory after five consecutive one-goal results?

Was it just one bad night for the Canucks? Can they bounce back, despite the unsettling Boeser news, and rekindle an offence that has had a concerning amount of sub-20-shot nights this spring?

Will this game come down to one mistake, the way Burrows fed Chris Campoli’s poor clear into the back of Chicago’s net in 2011?

Or do the Hockey Gods interfere, the way they did one night in Dallas for that old storyteller Ken Hitchcock’s Stars?

“There’s 13 seconds left, Ray Bourque’s got the puck at the point and he’s got a wrist shot going from the right side, which we all know usually goes in,” Hitchcock remembered. “It’s going in the net, and it hits the knob of Eddie (Belfour’s) stick and goes out of play.

“We could see it perfectly from the bench: It’s a goal, and it would have tied the game … and it ends up putting us into the Stanley Cup Final. So, I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen how close it is.”

What’s it going to be like on Victoria Day in Vancouver?

It’ll be gut-wrenching on TV, and somewhat less comfortable than that inside the building.

“If you’re not here,” Detroit goalie Chris Osgood told us once, “you don’t know what it’s like.”

We’ll close on our favourite all-time Game 7 quote, gathered in the aftermath of that crippling loss in Raleigh, for a band of Oilers who knew in their hearts that this magical run to the Final would be impossible to replicate.

Shawn Horcoff sat half-dressed in his stall, his body ravaged from two months of Stanley Cup play, with absolutely nothing left to give. He was spent, but for two last sentences.

“We left it all out there,” Horcoff said that night. “It was an honour.”

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