There isn’t anything like the frenetic pace, nerves, and finality of a Game 7. Two teams enter. One team leaves. It’s a 60-minute fight for your playoff life. The outcomes can often have far-reaching consequences.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have provided some thrilling moments in Game 7’s from a Stanley Cup victory to a couple of Ovechkin thrashings.
The Penguins also suffered a heartbreaking loss in 1993 which sent the franchise careening towards bankruptcy and altered the trajectory of the team for over a decade. They dropped Game 7 in 2010 to the Montreal Canadiens which forecasted five years of decline. And just for good measure, the 1975 Penguins also were the second team in NHL history to lose a seven-game series when leading 3-0.
But we won’t mention those again…
#7 2001 Darius Beats Dominik in OT
Mario Lemieux came back in December 2000. He and Jaromir Jagr were dominant but needed more than seven games to beat the Buffalo Sabres in Round 2. The Penguins forced Game 7 after the “Hail Mary” in Game 6 when the puck deflected high into the air and Lemieux batted it out of the air to tie the game in the final minutes to force overtime.
Game 7 also went to overtime. Lemieux and Jagr weren’t able to beat the best goalie in the world, Dominik Hasek. The unlikeliest hero in Penguins history, defenseman Darius Kasparaitis who scored only 27 career goals in 863 games, did beat Hasek. And Lemieux’s comeback advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.
#6 2009 Fleury Laughs at Ovechkin
The Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry was at its zenith and the Penguins mystical playoff domination of the Capitals was in full effect. Round 2, May 13, 2009, Ovechkin had a prime scoring chance. He got behind the Penguins defense and had a breakaway on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury stoned Ovechkin and laughed heartily after he snared Ovechkin’s glove side shot. Fleury kept smiling. Ovechkin deflated. And, the Penguins rolled to a 6-2 win.
#5 2017 Fleury has the Stroke
May 10, 2017. Again Round 2. Again Ovechkin. Again Fleury. Fleury, who was a thief through the first two rounds of the playoffs, robbed Ovechkin and mocked the Russian superstar, perhaps as a matter of ritual. Fleury stopped all 29 shots for a 2-0 win and the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. Again.
— Bat Flip Sports (@BatFlipSports) May 11, 2017
#4 2016 Back to the Finals
The Penguins Stanley Cup run continued on May 26, 2016. There wasn’t an iconic moment. There wasn’t one heroic performance, there were many for both sides. The Penguins beat the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lightning center Steve Stamkos returned after a lengthy injury to help his team but it wasn’t enough. The Penguins won 2-1, which was their first Game 7 victory in the six years since the PPG Paints arena opened.
Bryan Rust scored both Penguins goals.
#3 Kunitz Knuckled Senators
Emergency rooms throughout Ottawa and Pittsburgh must have been busy. May 25, 2017, the Penguins and Ottawa Senators needed five periods to decide who would win the Eastern Conference. Chris Kunitz scored a double-OT game-winner with a knuckling, fluttering shot which elevated over Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
The Senators Cinderella story was over. The Penguins Cup defense continued.
#2 1999 One-Legged Jagr
May 4, 1999. Game 6, Round 1, the Pittsburgh Penguins were two minutes from elimination. And perhaps extinction.
Why is a Round 1, Game 6 and 7 so important? The Penguins fate was to be decided in bankruptcy court the following month. There was real fear the Penguins could be disbanded. Imagine, the Pittsburgh Penguins could have been no more. They desperately needed the playoff revenue.
The team, one year removed from Lemieux’s retirement, was a cast of grinders, hopefuls, cast-offs, Alexei Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr. They were an 8th seed coached by defensive-minded Kevin Constantine and faced the top-seeded, and battle-tested New Jersey Devils. Jagr suffered groin injury early in the series and missed the previous four games. He was not hopeful to play in Game 6.
Things were bleak.
But, Jagr surprised everyone and played. And, a great individual effort by Jagr tied Game 6 in the final two minutes; two minutes from the potential loss of hockey in Pittsburgh. Jagr then won the game in overtime. It was probably the greatest performance in Penguins history. Despite the heroics and eye-popping offensive nights by Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jagr, it was Jagr’s performance on one leg which will never be forgotten.
In Game 7, Jagr had two assists and the lowly Penguins beat the top seeped Devils. They also earned millions in playoff revenue by advancing to the next round. So, for those who remember, Jagr will always be the fish who saved Pittsburgh, before Mario Lemieux stepped forward in bankruptcy court.
#1 Cup to the Max
Game 7s produce unlikely heroes. In 2009, it was Max Talbot’s turn.
The Pittsburgh Penguins rebuild was finally complete. It began with the draft day dealing by general manager Craig Patrick to trade up for the first overall selection of Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003, and continued with the second overall selection of Evgeni Malkin in 2004, the lucky ping pong ball which landed them Sidney Crosby in 2005 (and Kris Letang in the third round), and concluded with Jordan Staal’s second overall selection in 2006.
The Penguins were ready. Unfortunately, in 2008 their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final ended in heartbreak. The juggernaut Detroit Red Wings taught the upstart Penguins a lesson in six games.
The Penguins were not to be denied. After struggling through the regular season, GM Ray Shero fired head coach Michael Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma. The move ignited the Penguins.
The Penguins faced elimination in Game 6 but rallied for a home-ice win to force Game 7. Talbot, a character and grit player, scored the Penguins’ two goals. In the final seconds, Fleury made a diving stop on Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and young captain Sidney Crosby hoisted his first Stanley Cup.
And just for more fun: