CALGARY — Most Calgary Flames players lack Game 7 of the NHL playoffs experience, but not their coach.
Darryl Sutter holds the all-time record among NHL head coaches with a 7-3 record in a best-of-seven series that reached the Game 7 final.
His 11th Game 7 comes on Sunday when the Flames and Dallas Stars close out their conference quarterfinal at the Saddledome.
The 63-year-old from Viking, Alta., will top the list ahead of Claude Julien, Mike Keenan and Mike Babcock, who all have 10.
The Flames haven’t played Game 7 of a series since 2008. Ten players on Calgary’s current roster have never won a playoff, while all but four of the Stars have.
Sutter’s Game 7 record includes a win and a loss when he coached Calgary to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004.
The Flames beat the Vancouver Canucks in overtime in the first round to advance, but lost to the Lightning in a Cup final that went the distance.
“I’ve been through a lot of it,” Sutter admitted on Saturday. “I went through them here. The last time this team went to the final we lost a game 7, but to get to this game 7 you had to win in a game 7.”
Sutter returned to the Flames just over a year ago. He led the Flames (50-21-11) to the top of the Pacific Division in his first full season behind the Calgary bench.
The Flames therefore have considerable clout to close the series with a home win on Sunday and advance to the first round for only the second time since that 2004 Cup final.
“Pressure is a good thing,” Sutter said. “In the long run, that’s what separates you and I have been through many of those sevens. It’s, ultimately, what also separates you from your position in the league as a player.
“For the guys who weren’t in Game 7, it’s time to step in too. There are guys in this series who haven’t been as productive as they would like. It’s also an opportunity to be a hero.”
The Stars doubled the Flames 4-2 in Game 6 on Friday at American Airlines Arena to even the series and send it back to Calgary for a high-stakes conclusion.
Thanks in large part to the work of Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger and his Calgary counterpart Jacob Markstrom, the series was low-scoring. The Flames have produced seven even-strength goals while the Stars have scored six in the first six games.
“This series deserved to have a Game 7,” Sutter said.
Both clubs are dealing with injury problems ahead of the seventh game. All-star forward Luke Glendening did not play Friday’s third period after receiving a hit from Calgary defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
Stars coach Rick Bowman says the forward passed concussion protocol and a lower-body injury kept him on the bench in the third.
No penalty was assessed on the play, but Zadorov was summoned to an NHL player safety hearing on Saturday for an illegal hit to the head.
No additional disciplinary action was taken.
There was significant head contact, the NHL said in its ruling, but Zadorov took the correct angle of approach, didn’t expand outward or up and ran through the core of Glendening. Head contact was deemed unavoidable.
“It was a hockey game,” Sutter said. “I totally disagree that there should be an audience given that there have been some hiccups in this show.”
Chris Tanev didn’t finish Game 6 either. Calgary’s top defenseman was injured early in the second period and did not return to the game.
Tanev passed through the team’s charter flight terminal on Saturday without noticeable obstacles, but Sutter did not predict Tanev’s status for Sunday.
“He is going to see doctors and receive treatment today,” the coach said.
The Stars’ most recent Game 7 also took place in Alberta two years ago in the Edmonton playoff bubble. Dallas scored in overtime to beat Colorado 5-4 and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Winger Milan Lucic is the most experienced Flame in his seventh games with a 4-6 record in 10 appearances.
“You want to have emotion, but there’s a balance,” Lucic said. “You want to have the emotion of bottling it and using it in the right way, and not letting it get the better of you.
“You remember when you’re a kid and you’re about to run a big race, and you feel like you’re punched in the stomach just before you start. It’s that kind of feeling.
“You want to bottle that up and put it into something positive. It’s a time when big players make big plays and do it.”
When it comes to the pressure of a Game 7, Sutter embraces standing in the eye of the hockey hurricane.
“It’s a quiet place,” the coach said. “I love that part. It’s like being in the middle of it and I’ve always enjoyed that.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 14, 2022.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press