Avalanche players told to 'have fun' in Game 7 vs. Wild

Nathan MacKinnon says playing in a Game 7 was always in his mind when he was a kid playing pond...

Nathan MacKinnon says playing in a Game 7 was always in his mind when he was a kid playing pond hockey. (USA Today)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:11 PM ET

DENVER - For a game the Colorado Avalanche never wanted to play, they can’t wait for the puck to drop.

It’s Game 7.

Enough said.

Sure, by losing Game 6 on Monday night to the Minnesota Wild they have now joined their enemy on the brink of playoff elimination, but that’s what makes this so great. The stakes, the pressure, the excitement, the noise.

It’s Game 7, baby, and nothing else compares.

“Game 7 is what you dream about, that’s what you play street hockey about when you’re a kid,” said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, as the Avalanche circled their wagons for one final stand. “Everybody dreams about Game 7. We’re looking forward to it and we’re confident at home.”

Head coach Patrick Roy is almost giddy at the prospect of a series deciding game at the Pepsi Centre.

“It’s a great experience for these guys,” he said. “You cannot win a Stanley Cup without winning a Game 7. And here we are. Our players are going to learn to play a Game 7. How good is this?

“They’re excited about it and they should be. All year we battled hard. All year we were even keel. All year we wanted to have that home ice advantage. And we surprised the world of hockey by finishing first in our division and now we receive the benefit of it — we’re playing Game 7 in our building. It doesn’t get any better than this. This is great for the game of hockey.”

Eighteen-year-old rookie Nathan MacKinnon has played in a lot of Stanley Cup playoff Game 7s, but this is the first real one.

“I had a little pond in my backyard growing up that I could walk to,” he said. “It was always Game 7 in my mind. Talking to guys like Max (Talbot) and (J-S Giguere), who’ve been there, the biggest message they told me is to have fun with it. Obviously the stakes are as high as anything I’ve ever played in, but it’s important to enjoy it and have some fun out there.

“You have to embrace the pressure. We’ve played some great hockey all year and I don’t think it should be over tomorrow.”

Roy, speaking from experience, doubts that it will be over. At least not for Colorado. He says the difference between playing a Game 7 at home or on the road is enormous.

“In my Game 7s, I think on the road I’m 0-6 and at home I’m 7-1,” he said. “It is tough to win Game 7 on the road.”

While the home team has won all six games so far, the margin in this series is razor thin, especially in Denver. The Wild had a late third period lead in Game 1 and another late third period lead in Game 5 before Colorado scored with the goalie out and then won both games in overtime.

“The aura of a Game 7 is pretty special, but for us, being down 2-0 to start the series, we’ve been in this situation, where we needed to win games, just to get to this point,” said Minnesota’s Zach Parise. “The way we look at it right now, we’ve won three of the last four and we feel good about how we’re playing.”

And they hope Colorado’s first taste of desperation goes down the wrong pipe.

“We’ve been through it before (in Game 6), so we should be pretty calm and confident with it,” said Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper. “We just have to be ready for it and have the same mentality we had Monday. You lose, you’re done, that’s Game 7 in a nutshell.”

You win, you get Chicago.

“Winners recognize how hard it is, but at some point there comes a time where you really start to appreciate that and take pride in doing all those little hard things,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo. “We’ve gone through a lot of hard things to get to this point and we’re going to face a lot more tomorrow night. But I know that every guy in our locker room is excited about it.”

WIN THE BATTLES

Avs coach Patrick Roy doesn’t want to use his famous “table” analogy again, but he says it applies more than ever in a Game 7 situation. “What it’s going to come down to,” he said. “Is like I said after Game 4. I won’t use the same words, but it’s about battles, the one-on-one battles, moving our feet, being involved in the play. If you win those battles, it makes a big difference, a big difference.” ... For Avs centre Matt Duchene, who returned Monday from a knee injury, Game 7 will be just his second game in a month. So he’ll need to go from zero to 60 in a big hurry. “I’m taking it as a personal challenge,” he said. “It’s more mental than physical, trying to play through that cautiousness and hesitation. It’s a good challenge for us as a team, we should take it on with a lot of excitement.”

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

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