DETROIT — All the marbles. The whole enchilada. The whole nine yards.
There are plenty of cliches that can summarize the importance of a winner-take-all Game 7 in any NHL playoff series.
In discussing today’s decisive Game 7 of a Western Conference quarterfinal, the Detroit Red Wings aren’t leaning on overused expressions.
Instead, the Wings consider what has helped them reach this point against the Anaheim Ducks, and what could help them win, or quite possibly lose, the final game of the best-of-seven series at 10 p.m. at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
“We’re just going to prepare the same way that we’ve done this whole series,” Red Wings center Gustav Nyquist said. “That’s what we have to do. We know it’s going to be tight. We know it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be hard with their home crowd, but we’ll be ready for it, for sure.”
Game 7 is nothing new to an organization with 86 seasons of history and 11 Stanley Cup championships. The Red Wings prepare to play in their 22nd playoff series that has gone a full seven-game duration since the NHL instituted its first best-of-seven playoff series prior to the 1938-39 season.
While tonight’s Game 7 in Southern California doesn’t have the weight of, say, the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, in which the Red Wings lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, or the 1954 Stanley Cup Final, in which the Red Wings beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Tony Leswick’s goal 4:29 into overtime, Game 7 brings about a certain anticipation.
Overtime isn’t an unfamiliar concept in this series against the Ducks, nearly 70 years after Leswick’s overtime goal won the Stanley Cup for the Red Wings. The Ducks and the Red Wings have gone to overtime four times in the last nine days — in Games 2, 4, 5, and 6 — and Henrik Zetterberg’s goal 64 seconds into Friday’s overtime sent the series to the brink.
“Every overtime that we’ve played in, the goals have been really quick,” Ducks right wing Emerson Etem said. “Say if it does go to overtime in Game 7, we’re going to have to realize that. We’re going to expect it to be a close Game 7. We’re going to battle and expect to win it.”
Prior to 1967, the Red Wings played in 10 series that went to a Game 7, including five Stanley Cup finals series. Tonight’s Game 7 is the 12th the Red Wings have played in since the NHL’s first season of expansion in 1967, and they’re 6-5 in those 11 series — the last seven-game series the Red Wings won was in 2010, when it beat Phoenix in a Western Conference quarterfinal.
“It just seems when our backs are against the wall that’s when we play our best,” said Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who made 34 saves Friday in a 3-2 overtime win. “The urgency was there from the drop of the puck [Friday]. There can’t be any let up. We got to have this right into Sunday night.”
In this Western Conference quarterfinal against the Ducks, the stakes amount to this: playoff survival.
If the seventh-seeded Red Wings win, they will face the No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks in a Western Conference semifinal. If the second-seeded Ducks win, they will advance to an all-California conference semifinal against No. 6 Los Angeles.
The loser of tonight’s Game 7?
They’ll be buying new razors to shave off their playoff beards, and likely booking tee times at local golf courses.
As former NHL defenseman Jeff Brown once said, “funny things happen when you’ve got a bunch of golf courses staring you in the face.”
Today’s Game 7, for one team, will come with a finality. It will bring the season to a halt.
“There’s no turning back,” Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller said. “You want to win. You have to win. We’ve got to play that way and not wait until something happens. We have to come out and play our game.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.