Game 7s are extra exquisite, super special, great moments in sport. Teams want to avoid them because they can be such crapshoots but when you get to them they’re to be embraced, treasured and to be placed on pedestals in, “I was there” memory banks.
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Where will Sunday’s Game 7 in Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup playoff history end up in your personal ranking of the one’s you’ve witnessed?
I’ll have had the privilege of being in the press box for all 11 Game 7s in Oilers history. In many different directions they’ve all been memory makers.
• 1984 CALGARY
Wayne Gretzky said he obsessed about his first Game 7 all day. “All I thought about were the questions. Where was I? Why didn’t I perform? This was the most critical game of my career to this point. It was the most important game in the history of our organization.” Gretzky grabbed the game by the throat and the Oilers won 7-4 and went on to win their first Stanley Cup.
• 1986 CALGARY
On the back of a raw rookie, a dynasty died. On his 23rd birthday Steve Smith effectively ended one of the greatest playoff series ever played. With the score tied 2-2 Smith came out from behind his own net and attempting a pass up the ice, hit goaltender Grant Fuhr with the puck going into the net at 5:14 of the third period. Calgary would go on to win 3-2 to interrupt a possible five-in-a-row Stanley Cup run.
• 1987 PHILADELPHIA
The first game of 21-year-old Kelly Buchberger’s career was Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final. Nervous? “If he was a race horse we would have had to scratch him,” said Craig MacTavish. The Oilers won it 3-1. “The guy for us was Gretzky. Wayne showed why he is the greatest player in the world,” said coach Glen Sather. But it was Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall who made 40 saves in Game 7 in Edmonton who won the Conn Smythe MVP Trophy.
• 1989 LOS ANGELES
Gretzky was sold to the Kings and the Oilers would meet the Kings in the second round. Mark Messier went out of his way to hit No. 99 early in the series. “This is no damn fun. It just doesn’t seem right. I’m godfather to his daughter Paulina,” said Messier. In L.A., the Kings won Game 7, 6-3 to become only the fourth team in history to come from down 3-1 to win a series.
• 1990 WINNIPEG
Bill Ranford was a mess in goal for the Oilers in Game 1 and early in the first round series. “He’s not the first goalie to have his troubles. It’s up to Billy to fight back,” said coach John Muckler. Ranford played great in a pair of 4-3 wins and the Oilers came home for Game 7 and won it 4-1. The Oilers went on to win their fifth Stanley Cup and Ranford won the Smythe as the playoff MVP.
• 1991 CALGARY
It’s one thing to win a Stanley Cup playoff game in Game 7. It’s another thing to put your name on a Game 7 the way Esa Tikkanen did to win it. Tikkanen scored three goals including the winner at 6:10 of overtime. It would turn out to be the last time the two teams would meet in the playoffs in a Battle of Alberta.
• 1997 DALLAS
The following year, after Edmonton had won twice in overtime of their first round series against Dallas Stars, and Todd Marchant won it in OT in Game 7 in Reunion Arena. Marchant broke in alone and blasted a shot off the blocker of former Oiler Andy Moog for the 4-3 win at 12:26 of OT. The Oilers had eight rookies in the game.
• 1998 COLORADO
Opening the playoffs against the Avalanche the Oilers looked to be about to make an early exit, but manufactured big wins facing elimination in Game 5 and Game 6 to end up in Game 7 in McNichols Arena. “I don’t think there was anybody that thought we’d come in here for one game and be up by four goals,” said Sather of the 4-0 win.
• 2006 CAROLINA
It was the first time two former WHA franchises made it to the final and the first time a final featured two teams that had missed the playoffs the previous season. If Dwayne Roloson, the goaltender GM Kevin Lowe acquired at midseason hadn’t been injured in Game 1, it probably would have been sixth Cup. A 4-0 win in Game 6 sent the Oilers to Game 7 in Carolina where they lost 3-1.
• 2017 ANAHEIM
The Ducks won 2-1 in the Pacific Division final as the Ducks ended a streak of four straight Game 7 losses at home in Honda Centre. They hadn’t led at home in regulation since Game 1. The Oilers gassed leads and lost two overtime games. Edmonton lost four of the last five games. “It shouldn’t even have got to a Game 7 so you know it sucks to lose that one,” said Oilers forward Milan Lucic.