It’s the Valhalla of pro sports.
It’s the revered temple where you, at the same time, might find yourself both giddy and terrified to be.
The Super Bowl is a nice little sporting event, perhaps even deserving of its Roman numerals on occasion. Other games/events/tournaments shine in their own way: the Final Four; the Kentucky Derby; the Indy 500; The Masters.
You can have them all, and give me the Valhalla itself—Game 7.
They are two of the most concentrated words in sports. Simply by saying “Game 7,” you can cause grown men to crawl into the fetal position. Or you can bring glorious memories back to the fore.
You only need a couple of drops of Game 7 to turn a playoff series vat into a kick-your-ass level of spiciness.
You think the Super Bowl rules?
What the Phoenix Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings wouldn’t do to dispense of a playoff series and hop on a plane, jet out to a resort town, soak up the sun for two weeks, and play a single hockey game for two-and-a-half hours to decide their playoff fate.
Tonight’s Game 7 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series is winner-take-all (sort of), but it’s not that simple.
There is the matter of the previous 360 minutes of hockey, for starters.
You don’t play a playoff series, you invest in it.
A series that goes the maximum seven games is a portfolio filled with profits and losses and jackpots and busts. Each game is 60 minutes at the blackjack table or the slots. You go home either mumbling to yourself or clutching your bag of loot.
Game 7 is the day of reckoning.
The previous six games are in the record books, but they aren’t history. They’re with you, and whether you choose to have them load you down or give you support is up to you.
There isn’t a more nerve-wracking evening that a pro sports fan will spend than one watching his or her team play a Game 7.
It hardly matters that tonight’s contest is three rounds shy of the Stanley Cup Finals. Hell, it may as well be for all the marbles, because the loser has no more hockey this season. It’s the ultimate crap shoot. They make you bet all your chips at Game 7, like it or not.
You’re either going to go home with your pockets empty or you’re moving on to bet another day.
There’s nothing that happens in a Game 7 that’s meaningless.
For the hockey people, that means every crooked bounce of the puck, every whiff with the stick, every shoulder-slumped trip to the penalty box could play a crucial role in who wins and who loses.
And Lord help the fan whose team is forced into overtime in a Game 7.
I’ve been there. We all have.
I remember being dropped to my knees, practically bowing in deference to Steve Yzerman when he blasted a shot from just beyond the blue line over the shoulder of Jon Casey in the second overtime to win Game 7 of the Red Wings’ second round series with the St. Louis Blues in 1996.
And I remember feeling like I’d been slugged in the gut when Toronto’s Nikolai Borschevsky deflected a shot past Tim Cheveldae in overtime to beat the Red Wings in Game 7 of the first round in 1993.
Game 7 is the greatest moment in pro sports because there’s no in between: at the end of it you’re either going to feel pleasure or pain. Nothing else.
If the Red Wings win tonight, the hero is just as likely to be Henrik Zetterberg or Patrick Eaves. The game-winning goal may be scored in the game’s opening minutes or in its waning moments. A seemingly innocent-looking play early in the second period may turn as horrific as a car crash.
You never know.
This is Game 7. This is where you open up your soul and it’s either going to be sucked out of you or blessed.
No in between.