Multiple Game Sevens

With two exciting games on Sunday afternoon and early evening, NHL hockey fans were treated to events leading to two of the best words in the English language: Game Seven.

The Boston Bruins overcame a 1-0 deficit to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the afternoon game with power play goals from Brad Marchand and Torey Krug to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Jake DeBrusk, the villain of sorts to Maple Leafs’ fans who were angry with the team’s loss of Nazim Kadri for the remainder of the first round, then gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead shortly before the midpoint of the second period.

Early in the third, Auston Matthews cut the Bruins’ lead down to one, 3-2, with a goal just 4:15 into the third, setting up a compelling final 15:45 of play, where the Maple Leafs could not solve Tuukka Rask a third time. Instead, it was Marchand scoring his second of the day that sealed the Maple Leafs’ fate.

My brother is big Bruins’ fan, so I am happy for him that he at least gets to see his favorite team play one more time this playoff year. If neither the New York Islanders or Columbus Blue Jackets survive the East, I have no problem with the Bruins getting to the Stanley Cup Finals, especially if their opponent is the San Jose Sharks.

I have to say, before I go any further, that I love this time of year. Even though the NHL plays 82 regular season games, and I follow three teams pretty religiously and two more fairly closely. That means I keep tabs on 410 regular season games. I also find myself following another 36 or so Michigan Tech hockey games, 25 Finlandia hockey games, and some 80-plus high school hockey games locally.

Despite all of that, I really do love this time of year. The NHL playoffs are something truly special. Anything can happen at any time. Every series is a best-of-seven, which means there can be multiple storylines within a series, depending on how long the series goes and what happens within that series.

Take the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights’ series, the other game played Sunday, in which the Sharks forced another Game Seven by winning in double overtime on a shorthanded goal by Tomas Hertl.

The Sharks rolled over the Golden Knights in the series opener, although captain Joe Pavelski was lost for a chunk of the game with an injury after tipping in the series’ first goal with his mouth. In Game Two, the Sharks lost two skaters in Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to injuries blocking shots. The Golden Knights won the game.

In Game Three, Couture was back, Vlasic was not. The Sharks lost Michael Haley to injury and center Joe Thornton to suspension. The narrative around the series was focused not on the Sharks in general, but rather their goaltender, Martin Jones.

Jones was looking like he did late in the season, where he struggled mightily down the stretch and often was a big part of why the Sharks lost seven of 10 to close out the season. In Game Three, he surrendered a goal in the first minute, putting his team down quickly.

Game Four saw Jones surrender goals in the first minute or minute and a half in all three periods to help the Golden Knights take a 3-1 series lead.

Interestingly, Jones has also been the story the last two games, but for better reasons, at least in my opinion. He was strong in Game Five, backstopping the Sharks, who also had Thornton and Vlasic back, to a 5-2 win. It was, by no stretch of the imagination, a perfect game for the Sharks, but they did get the win.

In Game Six on Sunday, the Sharks took a 1-0 lead with just 6.5 seconds left in the first period. Jonathan Marchessault evened things for the Golden Knights in the second period. The game remained 1-1 until Hertl’s goal in double overtime.

Jones made 58 saves in the contest, the most he had ever made in a playoff game. He really was the difference in the game.

For me, it’s really exciting that Tuesday night, there will be two Game Sevens to watch, the latter of the two being the one I will be focused on more heavily. I absolutely love this time of year, where anything can, and often does, happen.

Oh, and congrats to the Carolina Hurricanes, who forced a third Game Seven, this one on Wednesday.