Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Pavelski

The greatest Game 7 heroes in NHL history (and who might become one tonight)

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A lot of people think that it’s unfair that the playoffs can make or break players’ legacies. It’s reasonable to feel uncomfortable about that since the sample size is so small, but there’s no doubt that lasting memories are made when everyone can focus on one game. The fact that tonight’s Detroit Red Wings-San Jose Sharks match is a Game 7 only intensifies that scrutiny.

The fact that Game 7s are still technically one game means that lesser known players can often steal the spotlight. Maxime Talbot scored two goals against the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to win the Pittsburgh Penguins’ third championship. Mike Rupp came out of nowhere to score the game-winning goal and two other assists in the New Jersey Devils’ most recent Cup win. Ruslan Fedotenko scored two goals to help the Tampa Bay Lightning win their only Cup in a similarly surprising fashion.

Still, when The Hockey News named its top 10 all-time Game 7 performances, most of the biggest games were provided by the biggest names. Perhaps it only makes sense that the sport’s most famous star also happened to top the list of performers in the league’s highest profile games:

3. Mark Messier, Rangers, 1994

The Rangers captain famously guaranteed a win against New Jersey in the Eastern Conference final, then followed that up with the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 against Vancouver.

2. Ron Hextall, Philadelphia, 1987

It’s rare to see the Conn Smythe Trophy given to a member of the losing team, but that’s what happened to Hextall in Philly’s Cup final series loss to the Oilers. Hextall made 40 saves in a losing cause in the Flyers’ Game 7, 3-1 loss and was spectacular throughout the series.

1. Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles, 1993

During the Campbell Conference final between Toronto and the Kings, Gretzky put up arguably the best single-game showing of his unrivaled career, recording a hat trick and virtually willing L.A. to victory over a plucky, Doug Gilmour-led Leafs squad.

(If you here some rumbling from Toronto, their words might sound like “high-stick!”)

NHL.com provides its list of three unlikely heroes from each side, but I thought I might throw out a few more anticipated names who might come through for their teams.

Most likely Detroit heroes

Nicklas Lidstrom – He leads the Red Wings in points in Game 7s and factored into some of the team’s most important goals in this series already. Most signs indicate he should be back to play next season, but if he has doubts, he’ll obviously want to keep this run alive.

Pavel Datsyuk – Despite shrugging off an injured wrist, the all-world forward is still an irresistible force.

Henrik Zetterberg – He’s often overshadowed by Datsyuk, but Zetterberg is a dynamic two-way player in his own right and was the team’s top regular season scorer with 80 points.

Niklas Kronwall – Kronwall is showing signs of returning to the form that made him seem like the “next big thing” on the Detroit blueline a couple years ago. He gets most of his attention from those bone-crushing checks, but Kronwall can score points too.

Most likely San Jose heroes

Devin Setoguchi – He scored the OT-winner to clinch the Sharks’ historic comeback against the Kings and already has an OT winner against the Red Wings in this series. This would solidify the belief that he’s a thorn in Detroit’s side.

Joe Thornton – Jumbo Joe already has a playoff series-clinching goal this year. Would another one turn his critics’ volume down that much more?

Joe Pavelski – “The Big Pavelski” has been gold in the last two postseasons for San Jose.

Dan Boyle – The Sharks’ greatest weapon from the blueline has a Stanley Cup ring on his resume and plenty of scoring ability.

***

Of course, the Hollywood ending would involve Patrick Marleau either coming up huge for his team or blowing the game in a tragic way. We’ll see what happens tonight, but in the mean time: who do you think will be the biggest difference-maker?

Report: Sens protesting Kings goal after clock issue

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Trevor Lewis #22 of the Los Angeles Kings scores a goal on Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators to take a 3-2 lead as Marc Methot #3 and Anze Kopitar #11 react during the second period at Staples Center on December 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There was more than one controversial moment during Saturday’s game between the L.A. Kings and Ottawa Senators.

Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki was given a major penalty for slamming Tyler Toffoli from behind into the boards, causing the Kings forward to undergo the league’s concussion protocol before he eventually returned to the game.

Later in the evening, there was a report from Darren Dreger of TSN that the Senators are protesting the Kings’ third goal of the game, which came with two seconds left in the second period. It was a pivotal moment in the game, as L.A. took a two-goal lead into the third period, before eventually winning 4-1.

Senators coach Guy Boucher didn’t place blame on a clock issue, but instead he put the onus on his team to not get scored on in that situation late in the period.

From LA Kings Insider:

“I’ll be honest with you, at that point for us we’ve just got to shut it down. We keep it at 1, it wasn’t about getting a goal there it was about getting off the ice. We had done the job in the second period, we had looked very good, we had the momentum, we needed to get into the third period with a one-goal lead. We’ve done it so many times this year coming back so I was confident we could come back, so no. I’m not looking at clocks, I’m not looking at penalties, I’m looking at ourselves just doing better.

The Kings now begin a stretch of nine games away from home. They play seven of those games before the holiday break, before resuming the trip on Dec. 28 versus the Canucks. The trip ends the following night in Edmonton.

Video: Unlikely combatants Kucherov and Daley drop the gloves

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Emotions were running high at times during the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, in a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final.

Unlikely combatants Nikita Kucherov and Trevor Daley dropped the gloves for a spirited scrap early in the first period, after the two got tangled up in front of the Pittsburgh goal.

It’s been an ugly (or disastrous) start for the Avalanche in Montreal

Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, top, and his team react during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Welcome back, Gabriel Landeskog!

Congratulations on game No. 1,500, Jarome Iginla!

Those are sentiments you probably won’t be hearing from the Colorado Avalanche later on Saturday evening. Yes, they did get their captain back in the lineup from injury. Yes, Iginla was playing in the milestone 1,500th game of his NHL career — certainly an impressive feat in a day when the game is getting younger and getting quicker.

But then, the puck dropped and it all went down the drain for the Avalanche in the opening period. Actually, the opening 10 minutes. Facing the Montreal Canadiens, the Avs found themselves down 5-0 by the 8:41 mark. Of the first period.

Right?

Brian Flynn started the onslaught. Paul Byron got the Habs’ fifth goal.

Shots were at one point 13-2 for Montreal. Perhaps most concerning? This disastrous showing follows Matt Duchene calling out his team for a recent loss and, previous to that, coach Jared Bednar ripping the team for a lack of intensity.

Calvin Pickard got the start in net for Colorado, but he was pulled after giving up three goals on 10 shots. Semyon Varlamov entered the game and quickly allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced.

Hey, remember in November when the Habs lost 10-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets? Well, Montreal was halfway to double digits on Saturday, and the first period wasn’t even at the halfway mark.

As of the completion of this post, Montreal was up 6-0. With 5:30 remaining in the first period.

Video: Borowiecki slams Toffoli from behind into the boards

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Tyler Toffoli reportedly went through the concussion protocol for a portion of Saturday’s game against the Senators, after Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki slammed the L.A. Kings forward from behind into the boards.

The incident occurred less than three minutes into the game.

Borowiecki was given a major penalty for boarding. He received another major, this time for fighting, later in the period after him and Matt Greene dropped the gloves. Now the question becomes: Will Borowiecki face supplemental discipline?

Toffoli missed the remainder of the first period, but returned for the second.

The Kings went on to win by a final score of 4-1.