Thursday's series finale against the Boston Bruins will be the Hurricanes fourth-consecutive time going the distance in a seven-game series, spanning back to the 2006 Eastern Conference finals against Buffalo. The Canes roster is loaded with experience — Carolina has won the previous three Game 7's — in the situation that will present itself at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The Bruins, on the other hand, have had just one Game 7 since the lockout, last year's Round 1 matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.
For the Boston faithful, it must seem eerily similar to last season. The Bruins, trailing the series 3-1 against the favored Habs, roared back with a convincing 5-1, Game 5 win in Montreal and followed that up with a four-goal third period in Game 6 en route to a 5-4 win.
But despite how good the B's looked in those two wins, things didn't go as well in Game 7. The Canadiens scored early — Mike Komisarek notched one just 3:31 into the contest — and often en route to a dominant 5-0 victory.
It wasn't pretty for the Bruins, especially after they had restored hope with their efforts in the previous two games. Does that Game 7 result sit in the back of this Boston team's psyche? Perhaps. This year's Bruins squad is not the underdog, but rather the favorite. Instead of going on the road for Game 7, they get to return home to Boston. And they've also added some valuable playoff experience (namely Mark Recchi). Still, several of the Hurricanes players have seen multiple Game 7's since 2006. The B's have five — two of which saw the majority of those must-win games in Carolina red, white and black.
But it never hurts to look at the numbers. So here's a closer look at the Game 7 resumes since the lockout. Let's start with Boston:
2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Boston Vs. Montreal (Montreal wins 5-0)
P.J. Axelsson: 0-0-0, 16:13 TOI, minus-2, 1 shot
Zdeno Chara 0-0-0, 24:04 TOI, minus-3, no shots, 2 PIMs
Andrew Ference: 0-0-0, 22:39 TOI, even, 2 shots, 2 PIMs
Shane Hnidy: 0-0-0, 17:50 TOI, even, 1 shot
Phil Kessel: 0-0-0, 17:59 TOI, minus-1, 4 shots
David Krejci: 0-0-0, 17:43 TOI, even, 3 shots
Milan Lucic: 0-0-0, 17:56 TOI, minus-1, 1 shot
Mark Savard: 0-0-0, minus-1, 3 shots
Mark Stuart: 0-0-0, minus-2, 1 shot
Tim Thomas: 0-1, 30 saves on 35 shots
Shawn Thornton: 0-0-0, 6:27 TOI, minus-1, 1 shot
Aaron Ward: 0-0-0, 20:04, minus-4, 1 shot
Dennis Wideman: 0-0-0, 21:19 TOI, even, no shots
Not exactly Boston's best effort, but for the majority of them that's all they have in the way of Game 7 experience. Three of Boston's players played in Game 7's with the Flames. The results aren't much better.
2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Anaheim Vs. Calgary (Anaheim wins 3-0)
Andrew Ference: 0-0-0, 21:50 TOI, even, 2 shots
Chuck Kobasew: 0-0-0, 11:12 TOI, even, 1 shot
Stephane Yelle: 0-0-0, 12:04 TOI, minus-2, no shots
Yelle was also with Calgary last season when they faced the Sharks in a deciding Game 7.
2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Calgary Vs. San Jose (San Jose wins 5-3)
Stephane Yelle: 0-0-0, 13:11 TOI, even, no shots
The Bruins with the most Game 7 success got it courtesy their time with the 2006 Hurricanes. Ward (who, as seen above, was statistically dreadful in Game 7 vs. Montreal last year) was valuable in both games, while Mark Recchi — a deadline addition — was a key veteran for the title run. It's also worth noting that these are the only Game 7 wins anywhere on the Boston roster (post-lockout).
2006 Stanley Cup Finals: Edmonton Vs. Carolina (Carolina wins 3-1)
Mark Recchi: 0-1-1, 17:58 TOI, even, 1 shot
Aaron Ward: 1-0-1, 21:49 TOI, plus-1, 1 shot, 2 PIMs
2006 Eastern Conference Finals: Buffalo Vs. Carolina (Carolina wins 4-2)
Mark Recchi: 0-0-0, 16:53 TOI, minus-2, 1 shot
Aaron Ward: 0-0-0, 23:51 TOI, even, 1 shot, 2 PIMs
Given that several of the Canes have played in all three of their recent Game 7's, I'll highlight some of those who stand out.
- Cam Ward: What can you say about the Canes' netminder? He's turned himself into one of the dependable big-game players in the league, and is probably the main factor — for either team — in determining who will win this Game 7. His resume? A .923 save percentage (72 saves on 78 shots) and just two goals allowed per game. The biggest number, of course, is 3-0. And he hasn't just been good in these games. Ask Fernando Pisani.
- Rod Brind'Amour: His role is decreased dramatically since 2006, but the captain knows how to get it done. He's been plus-1 in each of the three games and averaged more than three minutes on the penalty kill.
- Matt Cullen: He had two assists in Game 7 vs. Edmonton and was the best skater on the ice. He also had an assist in Game 7 against New Jersey last round. Against Buffalo in 2006 he was held without a shot and minus-1, but don't overlook him.
- Ray Whitney: Need a goal or perfect pass at a crucial moment? Whitney is your man. His stats during the three Game 7's aren't awe-inspiring (1-1-2, plus-2), but given the way he's performed this year at key moments he could be the biggest X factor.
- Nic Wallin, Chad LaRose and Eric Staal will all be in their fourth post-lockout Game 7 Thursday, with this being the third for Erik Cole and Sergei Samsonov (one playing for Edmonton against Carolina). Staal's game-winner vs. New Jersey is one for the ages, while Cole's gutsy return for Games 6 & 7 vs. Edmonton are the stuff legends are made of. Frank Kaberle, if he plays, would also be in his third.
So experience definitely favors the Hurricanes. But momentum is clearly in Boston's court. Like they say, that's why they play the games.