Yotes, Wings know what Game 7 can bring

April, 27, 2010

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Seventh games have their special place in NHL history.

Jimmy Howard remembers one in particular.

"When the Rangers beat the Devils [in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals], I was a huge Rangers fan growing up," the Red Wings' rookie goalie said Tuesday after the team's morning skate. "Who was it … Stephane Matteau who scored the goal? Five-hole on Marty [Brodeur], I think? That was probably my best Game 7."

Now Howard gets the chance to create his own Game 7 memories on the ice.

"I know; it's kind of surreal," he said. "Growing up, you dream of it, but you're never quite sure if it's going to come true or not, and here's my chance tonight."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Howard has a chance to add to quite a season.

"I think if you're Jimmy Howard, you've got to be pretty ecstatic," Babcock said. "It's your first year in the NHL, you've won a starting job, you've been nominated for the Calder Trophy and now you get to play in a Game 7. I think it's fantastic. And the other thing about it is that you've got the team here. So for him, it's got to be a great feeling."

A Game 7 memory wasn't hard to find from Adrian Aucoin. The Phoenix Coyotes defenseman was a pup when he played in one early in his career.

"For me, it was when I came up for the first time," Aucoin said of being recalled by the Vancouver Canucks late in the 1994-95 season. "I wasn't playing in the playoffs because everybody was healthy, and then we had Game 7 against St. Louis [in the first round]. Jeff Brown had hurt his knee, so we dressed seven defensemen, including me. At about the 10-minute mark, I got my first shift, a power play, and I scored on my first shot five seconds into the power play. So it was quite memorable, and we went on to win. That was a huge memory for me."

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has played and coached in a bunch of Game 7s.

"The year I coached in the minors in Houston, we won that year, and we went to Game 7 in every series," Tippett said. "Those games are exciting and ones you will remember for a long time. Our players are excited."

You want to talk Game 7? Babcock was in two of them just last spring.

"We've been through it just in the last two years. We beat Anaheim last year; we lost to Pittsburgh [also in 2009]," Babcock said. "For myself at the Olympics, we played seven games and won Game 7. They're all the same in that they're a thrill to be involved with. Now, would you like to win the series in four? Absolutely. But there's something about Game 7. There's a memory there, finding a way.

"You want to be a coach or a GM or a player or goaltender that gets it done, because that's part of sport. That's what you dream about when you're a kid, scoring the game-winning goal. That gives you something to think about this afternoon while you get a little rest."

Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom has played in seven Game 7s and knows the deal.

"You know what to expect, but it's still a game that's crucial for both teams," the Wings' captain said. "You have to be ready. So even if you've played in several or none at all, it's still a matter of being able to play under pressure."

As for preparation, you don't change a thing, Lidstrom said.

"The day is pretty much the same. You don't approach it any differently for any other game you play in the playoffs," he said. "It's an important game, but you still have to do your routine, do the same thing you usually do to get ready for a game."

Coyotes believe

Given their fairy-tale story this season, you can't blame the Coyotes for believing in their chances for Game 7.

"I just think the whole year has been a year of growth for us," Tippett said. "Every time you can add to that growth, it adds to the belief system. I think what's really worked for us is that everybody has been doubters of us all year, and our players recognize that. As they overcame hurdle after hurdle, it became almost like a chuckle in our room, a motivating factor for us.

"Everything that goes against us, we have used as a positive, and we have had some results from it."

From Shane Doan to Ed Jovanovski to Robert Lang, several veteran players have the Coyotes in the right frame of mind.

"Our leadership group is big in that room," Tippett said. "It's everybody all in together. That's one of the unique things about this group of players. I like the mindset of our guys. It goes back to the adversity all year and how they've handled it. It's not as if they are getting thrown into a situation of 'What do we do now?'"

The first goal

Babcock believes the team that scores first tonight will have an advantage.

"One of the things I've found is that scoring first in Game 7 seems to be a bigger deal in my experience, just because of the momentum on one side and the negative thoughts on the other side," he said. "The whole key is, just play the game, don't make it bigger than it is. Just play.

"You know, to use a baseball analogy, they call 'em 5 o'clock heroes and 7 o'clock bums, a guy that can deliver in batting practice, hit it over the wall at times, but when the game is on … That's not what we're looking for here. You want to be a person that delivers."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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