Sixteen years later, Mark Osborne still gets revved up about Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Osborne, the former NHL right-winger best remembered for his checking role during post-season runs with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the spring of 1993 and '94, admitted to feeling the emotion of playoff hockey on the eve of Thursday's Game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and hometown San Jose Sharks (6 p.m. PT).
"You're so excited that you have to keep your emotions in check and not spend all your energy just on the emotional part of getting ready to play," said Osborne, recalling his playoff days. He also had an extended playoff run with the New York Rangers in 1986 and returned to Manhattan for his final NHL playoffs in '95.
A regular Hockey Night Online contributor, the now 49 year old Osborne will be among the many watching Thursday night as the visiting Red Wings attempt to become only the fourth team in NHL history to come back from being down 3-0 to win a series.
Detroit clearly has the momentum, but who will prevail? Maybe the team with the players who have the best afternoon nap.
"Through your career you always wrestle with the mental part of your game, especially when you think you have to have an afternoon nap," said Osborne, who competed in the NHL playoffs in nine of his 14 seasons. "And if you don't sleep for whatever reason, subconsciously and psychologically, you start thinking that you're not going to have a good game."
As Thursday's game nears, Osborne shared his Game 7 experiences in a wide-ranging interview with CBCSports.ca.
CBCSports.ca: What did you prefer, home or road, for Game 7?
MO: That's a tough one because I did like them both. I think playing on the road in a Game 7 was just a little bit easier. You can use the expectations of the home crowd to your advantage. But when you get down [on the scoreboard] …
All I can remember is being down at Maple Leaf Gardens, Game 7 against [Wayne] Gretzky's team [the Los Angeles Kings in 1993]. It just wasn't happening for us. You're aware of the crowd and you can sense the tension building for the home team.
The next year we had a Game 7 against San Jose [in Toronto]. I remember, I think it was late in a tied game, [Sharks forward] Johan Garpenlov hit the crossbar. We were that close to losing. Even when it happened it was kind of surreal. We didn't even think about losing but it was that close.
CBCSports.ca: It's often said "anything can happen in a Game 7." What crazy or unusual moments do you remember from your Game 7 experiences?
MO: The [Wayne] Gretzky game [in 1993], certainly, when we could have gone on to play Montreal in the finals. Gretz saying that was his most memorable or best game? Hard to think that would have been Gretz's best game, although he did score three goals, one off [Leafs defenceman] Dave Ellett's skate. Bad bounces occurred and that was one of them.
CBCSports.ca: Are some of your best NHL memories from Game 7s?
MO: Yeah. Playoffs are the thing that means the most. The one run we had with the [New York] Rangers in '86. We had lost to Montreal in the conference finals. That was [former Montreal goalie] Patrick Roy's rookie year. That was certainly an enjoyable run for us. We thought possibly this could be a Stanley Cup [season] and then Montreal got in the way.
There are a number of Game 7s that you look back on from your career and say, wow, those were epic games.
|Year||0-3 Team||3-0 Team||Game 7 Result|
|2011||Blackhawks||Canucks||Canucks 2, Blackhawks 1|
|2010||Flyers||Bruins||Flyers 4, Bruins 3|
|1975||Islanders||Flyers||Flyers 4, Isles 1|
|1975||Islanders||Penguins||Isles 1, Penguins 0|
|1945||Red Wings||Maple Leafs||Leafs 2, Wings 1|
|1942||Maple Leafs||Red Wings||Leafs 3, Wings 1|
|1939||Rangers||Bruins||Bruins 2, Rangers 1, 3OT|
CBCSports.ca: In the 48 hours between Games 6 and 7, how did your daily routine change from other playoff and regular-season games?
MO: Your emotions are just that much more heightened. In '93, we were staying at the William Sutton [Place] hotel [off Bay St. north of College St. in Toronto]. You remember just walking to the rink going through a bunch of excitable moments as you're walking in [to the arena] and it's like, this is it.
You get in the building and people are always saying stuff to you and you're just so aware of the importance of that type of game.
The good thing about having a morning skate is that it takes a bit of the edge off and some guys would load up [on food]. We would also have a snack at the hotel about four o'clock before going to the rink and I think that's when the nerves would kick. Then you wouldn't feel that hungry.
CBCSports.ca: Did you prefer keeping hockey on your mind in the hours leading up to a Game 7 or distracting yourself?
MO: You would try to distract yourself but you just couldn't. [laughing]. Some guys could fall asleep right away but it became harder and harder in those playoff games. In between games in Los Angeles you would go for walks and do stuff and be distracted a little bit.
CBCSports.ca: What was more nerve-wracking in a Game 7: Waiting for the national anthem to end of the final minute of regulation with your team clinging to a one-goal lead?
MO: I think just the anticipation [of starting the game] was very nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. Once you get going the edge comes off a bit. And of course there's anxiety if you're down [a goal] late which we were in that L.A. series [in '93] and we just couldn't get that final goal. It's almost disbelief that it doesn't happen and the [Stanley Cup] dream kind of dies.
CBCSports.ca: How much did coaching play a part in the success of your teams in Game 7s?
MO: I wouldn't necessarily say [it played a big part] in one game. There's nothing that's going to happen that's different in one game. It's a collective process throughout the playoffs. It's what you've built upon that your coaches have told you throughout the year.
Whether I played for Herb Brooks [in New York] or Pat Burns [in Toronto] in recollection it was a season-long preparation and then getting in the playoffs and believing in each other and your coaches, what structure they have put in place. It's almost a confidence booster. You're used to getting through a round and being prepared for that team and their tendencies.
What I remember, and it doesn't change today, is these teams are so well prepared against their opponent, especially after you play a few games. I just remember being prepared from our coaches. You had full confidence in what was going on.
CBCSports.ca: Whether it was a more conservative or aggressive approach, how did you or the teams you played for change the style of play in a Game 7?
MO: I don't think an approach when you play a team that many games necessarily changes as far as game plan tactics. You wouldn't be all aggressive and then all of a sudden Game 7 you're going to change your whole philosophy and approach to being more tentative or passive.
I look at [Game 6] with San Jose [and Detroit] and you can't attribute their [the Sharks'] slow start to them all of a sudden deciding that they're going to become defensive-minded. That didn't occur. They were just a step behind. I don't think Detroit has done anything different other than they've built on some momentum.
They are really energized and just feeding off their past history of experience of seeing a team that might be questioning themselves. That's something as a player that's always in the back of your mind and that you're using it to your mental advantage.
CBCSports.ca: Who do you give the edge to in Game 7 between Detroit and San Jose, and why?
MO: People are writing off the Sharks but I think the Sharks will win. I'm betting against history that [coming back from a 3-0 series deficit to win] has only happen three times. The first five games were one-goal games, two in overtime. It's so close.
The one thing that's occurred in this series is that the pride, experience and character of the Red Wings has been rubber-stamped. Conversely, for me at least, [Sharks forward] Joe Thornton has to elevate his game more. It's just been OK. All the great players have always been able to get past some of that stuff. I look at the Detroit players and there isn't one guy that you would question their character.
But you look at San Jose and you say Dany Heatley, and I question his character. A great player, 50-goal scorer and all, but there's some issues there. Thornton, there's some things he hasn't been able to shed [in the post-season]. There's issues with [forward] Kyle Wellwood but Kyle's done pretty well, much to my surprise. I would still look at those guys and say there's still a character deficiency, but I couldn't say that about the Red Wings, player to player.
You've got [veteran forwards] Mike Modano and Kris Draper sitting out [of the lineup] and rightly so, but you can be sure that they're as much of a positive part of things, even if they're not playing.