Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Game 7s/Pittsburgh

The title conjures up images of Bill Mazeroski, a home run over the left field wall of Forbes Field and a 1960 World Series triumph over the New York Yankees.  That's it.  That's all we have.  For all the titles that the former Steel City or City of Champions has enjoyed over the last eighty years, no other has occurred on home soil, let alone come from a Game 7 victory in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates' '71 and '79 triumphs over the Baltimore Orioles went to seven games with the Bucs making stirring comebacks each time, but both of those closed with wins at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.  The Steelers don't play Super Bowls at home and the Penguins closed out their three Stanley Cup wins on the road.  So Maz's homer is your only championship on home turf if you're a Pittsburgh native--and you have to be sixty or seventy years old to have seen it.

For the younger generation the term Game 7 stirs a few demons that need to be vanquished.  Baseball fans remember ex-Pirate Sid Bream sliding home with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves.  While few losses could be as crushing and the Pirates haven't sniffed the post-season since, it did occur in the ATL.  The Steelers tortured their fanbase under Bill Cowher by going 2-4 in home AFC title games, but, while dramatic, it isn't the same as a seven-game series.

Game 7s in hockey are a different animal and we haven't seen one here in a long time.  For the Penguins the early results were mixed.  Back in '75 there was no hardware in the trophy case and no banners flying from the rafters of the Igloo when the Penguins blew a three games to none lead to the New York Islanders--one of only two teams ever to squander such a lead--losing Game 7 at home 1-0.  Fortunes changed in 1991 when, down three games to two in the first round to the New Jersey Devils, Frank Pietrangelo, playing in place of an injured Tom Barrasso, made "the Save."  The Penguins then rallied to win Game 7 at home and won their first Stanley Cup later that year.  The next year saw another first round comeback as the Penguins were down three games to one to the Washington Capitals before winning three straight, taking Game 7 in Washington, and cruising to their second Cup in as many years.  

But, from there the trail is largely gilded with rousing success on the road and littered with heartache at home.  In '99 and '01 the Pens won a Game 7 on the road each year and the 2009 playoffs saw the Penguins not only win a Game 7 at Washington, but also a Game 7 in Detroit to win their third Stanley Cup.  On the flip side, in '93 David Volek scored at 5:16 of overtime in the second round of the playoffs and the New York Islanders ended the Penguins' Cup run at two at home, defeating the team many think was the Penguins' best ever.  And in '96 the Pens blew a 3-2 games lead and again lost Game 7 of the Conference Finals on home ice to the Florida Panthers.  

So, when you wonder why the fans are quaking in their boots Wednesday night when the Penguins host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7, just look at the record.  History doesn't seem to favor them.  The team has played eight Game 7s since 1992.  They are 5-0 on the road including a Cup clincher last year in Detroit, but only 1-2 at home.  The team hasn't hosted a Game 7 since 1996, so none of the current players were around.  But many of the fans were.  And if they want to see that second title won on Pittsburgh soil in the last eighty years, they have get over the first hump Wednesday night.

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