One more win and you're in the Eastern Conference Final.
One more loss and you're cleaning out your locker.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a battle tested team.
They've made the Stanley Cup Final two years in a row.
Last year they beat both Washington and Detroit in game seven.
On the road.
Tonight they are at home.
We are at home.
And it needs to be loud.
"We know what Montreal’s building was for them and now it’s a chance for us and our fans to have something special... We want to have the energy and the top coming off of the old building. I know our guys are really looking forward to stepping out and hearing those fans go bananas with the opening introduction."
One of the most interesting things about game sevens is the rollercoaster ride they take you on. Every hit feels bigger. Every shot seems more deadly. Every bounce could end the game. Since the Habs 4-3 victory on Monday night we've all been on that rollercoaster. Emotions have been everywhere.
Anything can happen in game seven and it usually happens quickly. In the span of a few seconds you can go from feeling unbelievable fear to experiencing incredible joy. And it happens the other way around too. Game sevens are rarely boring. They are rarely predictable. And they are rarely easy.
It is in these games where heroes are made. They are born out of adversity. They are forged out of intensity. When it matters the most some players step up and perform at their highest level.
We've all seen it happen with superstars. Mario Lemieux. JaromirJagr. Sidney Crosby. EvgeniMalkin.
All of those men have risen to the occassion in their careers. They have taken their teams on their backs and played at a level that most of us can only dream about.
But it's not always the superstar that becomes the game seven hero. In fact, many times it's an unlikely player that finds another gear and propells his team to victory. These players do not become heroes because of their incredible natural talents. They do not achieve success by ability alone. These men rise up and become legendary because of their hearts, their desire and their tenacity. These heroes succeed because they have the will to do so.
So it's not entirely surprising that these men are most often the keys to victory in game seven. When the stakes are high and the competition is fierce sometimes emotion, heart and dedication are all that separate two teams from one another.
The Penguins have a roster of playoff heroes. They smell like smoke because they have been through fire. These are their triumphs.
In the movie Arachnophobia, some 1990s town is destroyed by spiders.
Jeff Daniels plays the charming role of some jobber who apparently is the only person with the ability to kill spiders.
In the movie's climax, Daniels is in the basement surrounded by spiders.
He's in his own house. There's no way out.
We've all had our own personal Game 7.
-- Meeting your significant other's parents for the first time.
-- The second onset of have-to-shit-now goosebumps with no bathroom in sight.
-- Your muffler falling off your truck on Bates Street in the pouring rain.
-- Changing your left-rear tire on the shoulder of I-79 on a 2-degree January day.
-- Walking into a room where you know everyone in the room hates you.
-- Driving high for the first time.
-- Having to pay a bill knowing an overdraft fee is lurking.
-- Serving 6:00pm Christmas Eve mass as an altar boy.
-- Stuck in the dead zone wondering whether you should hold the door open for that old lady who's just now getting out of her car in the handicapped spot and you have no clue how fast she'll walk to the door.
-- Some girl is faster than you thought she was, leaving you totally unprepared.
-- Driving down the road, hoping the driver of the next car going the other way didn't just catch his wife cheating on him and he's hell-bent on crashing head-on into the next vehicle he sees.
-- The light turns yellow in the aforementioned dead zone.
However big or small, we encounter Game 7s in our daily lives.
Game 7s have no logic behind them.
Game 7s can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with.
The decisions you make in those moments will stay with you until you die.
When the puck drops at 7:11pm tonight, it will begin carving itself into history.
God knows where we will be this time tomorrow.
Will we be planning for the Bruins and/or Flyers?
Or buying tickets to a Pirates game?
The one thing we've learned from any Game 7 is that it is all about the little things.
-- Don't say anything stupid when you meet your in-laws.
Play it close to the vest.
When a funny quip is left hanging in there above the dinner table, take it, then retreat back.
-- Making that split-second decision to go for broke and try to relieve some pressure in your intestines.
Will it be a squeaker? Will the person next to you feel the seat vibrate just enough?
Or will the plan totally backfire?
-- Will you call Triple A? Or suck it up and have 18-wheelers ruin your church clothes by sloshing winter muck into your mouth?
-- Will you close the door on the old lady and get to the back of the convenience store as quick as possible to convince yourself that the old lady was walking too slow when the doorbell dings signaling her entry?
-- Will a priest touch your penis right before the Apostles Creed?
How do you react? A champion doesn't flinch. You're there to do a job.
-- Will the Penguins score the first goal?
Games like this make us wish Al Gore would have invented the Internet a little bit sooner.
How nice would it be to look back on all of the previous Game 7s?
Even though it brings us pain, it's therapeutic to look back at the 2008 Game 6 SCF recap.
The way technology is, we'll be able to do that from here on out.
Most of all, as with all Game 7s, we will all remember something from this game.
Kevin Stevens' face '93.
Still remember that haunting slo-mo. Rich Pilon. Man.
The game-tying goal from that game still sends chills.
Frank Pietrangelo '91:
Game 7 is around the 6-minute mark.
-- Can't really remember much from the '96 Game 7, which is fairly stunning. Went through most of our adult lives thinking that Zubov scored the game-tying goal. Turns out it was actually Nedved.
If you want to see something unreal, LGP has a database of games no one has ever told us about.
He even has a shirt in Storeblog.
He's banged out beastly Homer-esque comments with a high level of consistency.
Only fitting to give him the reins.
"We'll meet you in the schoolyard, baby, for all the marbles..."
Those were the epic words of Mike Lange, uttered after the Pens won Game Six of the 2008-09 Stanley Cup Finals. Just a few nights prior, the Red Wings smoked the Pens by a score of 5-0 in Game Five, taking a three-games-to-two series lead and leaving the Pens absolutely zero margin for error. The 2-1 victory in Game Six was the return salvo by the Pens, forcing Game Seven back in Detroit and prompting Lange's now-infamous radio call.
Strange, then, that the Pens are once again faced with a trip to the schoolyard, yet this somehow feels so much different. After dropping Game Six in Montreal last night, it's back to Mellon Arena tomorrow night for Game Seven. Sure, the stakes aren't exactly the same; the winner of this Game Seven doesn't get to carry the Cup around the ice after the game...at least not yet, so to speak.
But take this all down to its most basic.
The Pens and their faithful find themselves at the same spot they found themselves after Game Six of the Detroit, the same spot they found themselves after Game Six of the Washington series last year - namely, tied three-games-to-three with an opponent with one game left.
Kind of strange, then, was this little dynamic that happened in the wake of last night's loss. Getting to this point this time feels a hell of a lot different than it did last June against Detroit. More frustration, lots of it felt by yours truly as this game progressed. It got me to wondering. Does winning Game Six to stave off elimination really mean that much more to the perceptions of your team heading into Game Seven?
Imagine we could flip the results of Games Five and Six. Imagine that with the series tied at two, the Pens drop Game Five by the 4-2 score we saw last night. Imagine, then, that Fleury comes out and posts a near-shutout in Game Six in Montreal. The Pens, down three-games-to-two heading in, win 2-1, stave off elimination and force Game Seven back in Pittsburgh.
If that happens, is anyone - fans, media - pointing a finger at Fleury? Is there any talk about defensive lapses, sloppy play or turnovers killing the Pens?
Or are those articles instead being written about how the Pens may have found a way to counter the collapsing defense of the Habs? Is there anywhere nearly as much talk about the Pens still possibly losing the series to an eighth seed? Or does much of what's written now start to question the Habs and their durability to withstand another Game Seven on the road?
Flip the results of Games Five and Six and we're still right here, headed to Game Seven, only Fleury's the hot goaltender and the Habs are the ones with the questions to answer.
This is how the perceptions change. This is how the stories change. Now we get the same old questions about Fleury. There'll be the questions about whether the Pens can play their game, get the first goal, and get another goal to build that elusive two-goal lead. We get all the talk about how this COULD be the last hockey game ever played at Mellon. Or that the first Pens game ever played there was a loss to the Canadiens, and that the last game played there COULD be as well. That's the kind of crap that Paul Alexander will be yammering on about on 93.7 The Fan all morning on Wednesday. That's the kind of stuff you'll hear from Ron Cook or Paul Zeise on Sunday Sports Showdown.
But at its heart, at its most basic point, the Pens are right back at that same spot they found themselves after Game Six last year.
In the schoolyard, baby.
Playing for all the marbles.
Only this time, it's our schoolyard.
Saw this quote on twitter last night from @jtkola:
"It's the only way to live life...think you're gonna win...don't hang your head...life's too short, every day's a bonus..." - -Badger Bob