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It's their final chance

In a rare Game 7, the Devils will try to defend their championship on the Avalanche's ice.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 9, 2001

DENVER -- The Stanley Cup will be in the house. So close, Ray Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche can almost touch it -- yet, to the New Jersey Devils, so near but so far away.

Game 7s in the Stanley Cup final are a rare occurance, so there will be some extra mystique when the defending champion Devils play the Avalanche tonight for the most cherished prize in hockey.

It will be the first time since 1994 that the Cup is guaranteed to be handed off at some point of the night, and only the third time since 1971 -- when a team last rallied from a 3-2 deficit, as the Avalanche is attempting to do.

Game 7s in any series carry with them an air of nervousness and finality, with one team assured of seeing its season end in defeat. But this game, this Mile High showdown of unquestionably the NHL's premier teams, with three Stanley Cup titles between them since 1995, promises to be a highlight reel for hockey for years to come.

"It's a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final, and it's a great opportunity to make your mark in hockey history," said Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who is trying to match Colorado goalie Patrick Roy by winning his third Cup in seven seasons.

Bourque's presence alone makes this Game 7 something special. This could be the shining moment of his distinguished 22-year career, or the most excruciating letdown possible for a man who has unsuccessfully chased the Stanley Cup since Jimmy Carter was president.

Win or lose, Cup or no Cup, retirement or not, Bourque understands he might not get this close again to the Cup that he has never touched, explaining only those who win it deserve to handle it.

"I am so thankful for the opportunity and I am real excited," Bourque said Friday, less than 24 hours after a 4-0 victory at New Jersey kept Colorado's hopes alive. "I can't wait to play. It's tough to stay in the moment and focus on what you've got to do, but we are doing that -- and just keeping an eye on the prize."

A prize his teammates no doubt want to win for him as much as they want to win it themselves. As Shjon Podein said, "I don't know if it gives us an edge, but it gives us excitement. This is the closest he has gotten, and we're trying to get it done."

In a series where control and home-ice advantage (the visiting team is 4-2) have meant almost nothing, the Avalanche now has both after it at least delayed the Devils' second straight Cup clinching for two days -- or, perhaps, waylaid it forever.

Now the Avalanche will be at home with the Stanley Cup in an anteroom, awaiting its next possessor. Now the Avalanche, and not just the Devils, control its destiny.

"It doesn't get any more important than this," Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. "This is when you see the real warriors, the guys who perform well under pressure."

New Jersey beat Toronto in a Game 7 earlier in the playoffs (as the Avalanche did against the Kings) and Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final a year ago. Also, the Devils proved last year they can win the Cup on the road, doing so in Game 6 in Dallas.

They could have lost that game, however, and still had a chance to win the Cup in Game 7 at home. This June, there is no margin for error, no mulligans if they fail. This is one game for the title -- or, as Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said, "It's just like the Super Bowl."

Scott Stevens isn't worried Game 6 will carry over to Game 7 for the Devils, if only because each game has taken on its own personality.

The Avalanche has outscored the Devils 12-1 in its three victories, yet the Devils have won twice in three games in Denver.

"There's really been no pattern," Stevens said. "It's been a bizarre series. There's been no consistency at all, and no overtimes. It seems that once a team gets the lead, it ... takes over the game."

This is the 11th time the final has gone to a Game 7, with the home team winning eight times. The last time a visiting team won a Game 7 was 1971, when the Montreal Canadiens completed their comeback from a 3-2 series deficit by winning in Chicago.

"Two great teams are going back and forth," the Devils' Bobby Holik said. "May the best team win."

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