Dallas Stars

Game 7 Times Two: Stars-Avs, Knights-Canucks

There will be a Game 7 in each Western Conference semifinal series on Friday

Pavel Francouz #39 of the Colorado Avalanche allows a goal on a shot by Alexander Radulov (not pictured) of the Dallas Stars during the first period in Game Four of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on Aug. 30, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Avalanche scoring wizard Nathan MacKinnon is from Canada, and teammate Nikita Zadorov from Russia. Dallas center Radek Faksa hails from the Czech Republic and veteran Joe Pavelski from Wisconsin. Vancouver goaltender Thatcher Demko is a San Diego kid, while teammate Elias Pettersson and Vegas goalie Robin Lehner are from Sweden.

Know something that ties them all together?

"Regardless of where you're born, Game 7 is a universal language," Avalanche defenseman and Michigan native Ian Cole said.

No translation necessary: The high-scoring second-round showdown between the Avalanche and Stars and the unpredictable matchup between the Canucks and Golden Knights all boil down to each Game 7 Friday.

The Avalanche and Canucks have won two in a row to tie things up after falling behind 3-1. Dallas-Colorado (4 p.m. EDT, USA Network) and Vancouver-Vegas (9 p.m., NBC Sports Network) now come down to a decisive seventh game with spots in the Western Conference final at stake.

"Nothing more exciting than Game 7," Canucks forward J.T. Miller said Thursday night after a Game 6 win. "This is what I think everybody preps for the whole season are games like this: the chance to go play in the conference finals."

If Colorado wins, it'll be in the West final for the first time since 2002, and momentum has clearly swung. The Avalanche used a five-goal flurry in the first period to win 6-3 in Game 5 and played stellar defense to claim a 4-1 win in Game 6 to force a winner-take-all contest.

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"Our goal isn't to get to Game 7," Cole said. "Our goal is to win Game 7."

Likewise for the Stars, who haven't been in the West final since 2008.

"Any Game 7 you play, whether it's on the road or at home, or in Edmonton in a bubble, super-exciting time," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "We're looking forward to it. This is a great opportunity to move on, and win a hockey game and bring our best, and that's what we're going to do."

The magnitude of the moment isn't lost on MacKinnon. He knows his Game 7 track record with Colorado -- 0 for 2.

"Looking to change that," said MacKinnon, who's recorded at least a point in all 14 postseason games and leads the playoffs in scoring with nine goals and 16 assists.

Both teams had their seasons halted last season with second-round losses in Game 7. Colorado fell 3-2 to San Jose in the series finale, while Dallas lost to St. Louis to in double overtime.

The Avalanche may once again be relying on 30-year-old third-string goaltender Michael Hutchinson to save their season.

So far, he's 2 for 2 in must-win games. Hutchinson took over with both starter Philipp Grubauer and backup Pavel Francouz sidelined.

It's been an unlikely path for the third-string Hutchinson, who before this series had never started an NHL playoff game.

Now, he's making history.

Hutchinson became the seventh goaltender in NHL playoff history to earn his first two career postseason victories in games where he was facing elimination. He joins Jacques Plante (1952), Robbie Moore (1978), Frank Pietrangelo (1990), Wade Flaherty (1994), Manny Fernandez (2002) and Michael Leighton (2009).

"The whole team trusts him," Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen said. "He's been really good for us."

A little background on Hutchinson: Picked by Boston in the third round of the 2008 draft, he's bounced around the league. He's played for Winnipeg, Florida, Toronto and various minor league teams. Colorado acquired him in a February trade with Toronto and he made one regular season start for the Avs -- on March 2, his 30th birthday. It was a win.

Along his journey, there were numerous times Hutchinson thought his career was over.

"You get sent down where you think you're never going to play another NHL game," he said. "Those moments, you put them behind and just enjoy playing hockey and have fun with it. Just keep working hard and try to be a good teammate."

Hutchinson was once teammates with Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin. They both played for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League in 2011-12. Hutchinson had a 2.36 goals-against average in 29 games, while Khudobin posted a 2.61 goals-against in 44 games, according to Hockey DB.

Vancouver has an almost equally unlikely starter in Demko, who has stopped 90 of 91 Vegas shots since replacing injured starter Jacob Markstrom in net for Game 5. Demko is used to playing back-to-back games from his days at Boston College, and while coach Travis Green wouldn't tip his hand on a Game 7 starter, the 24-year-old is ready if called upon again.

"I feel good, I feel ready to go," Demko said after a 48-save shutout Thursday night. "It's a big game 7. This is the game you want to play in all year and as a kid you kind of look at Game 7s, watching game 7s as a kid and you're envisioning yourself in those games."

Injuries play a role this time of year too, and Colorado might go into its Game 7 without captain Gabriel Landeskog. The Avalanche had no update Thursday on Landeskog's status. He limped off the ice Wednesday night after taking the blade of a skate to his right leg late in the second period and briefly returned in the third period.

Asked about the prospect of possibly being without Landeskog, forward Nazem Kadri responded: "I don't even want to talk about that. So hopefully he's in the lineup ... He's a big part of this team."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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