We have been here before and yet we have never quite been HERE before. On consecutive nights at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars dispatched Phoenix and Calgary for the third time each to set up a Game 7 for each that will be played not only on the same night but at overlapping times. It’s not just Luka and Jalen or Miro and Jake that must be on their toes.
It’s all of us.
The Mavs face the Suns a seventh and final time in the Footprint Center at 7 Sunday night. Somewhere in the middle of the third quarter there, the puck will drop 1200 miles north at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary where the Flames and Stars will go at it, quite conceivably for hours. Keep in mind that these two Dallas franchises have each played seven seventh games (not including Stars’ time in Minnesota) and that they have never even happened in the same year. Now they are forcing us into two-TV territory. Better at least check the batteries on your remote.
History tells us there is nothing in sports quite like seventh games. The first one I covered (more like endured) was the Stars’ 1997 battle with Edmonton when the Oilers were a heavy underdog but found ways to frustrate the Stars at one end (that darned Cujo) or stun Dallas at the other (Todd Marchant of all people) to win a Game 7 in two overtimes here at Reunion Arena. Afterward, forward Brent Gilchrist told me why it’s the hardest loss, how your season is never more alive in a Game 7 when you’re as far removed from an offseason practice as possible and then suddenly — in possibly endless overtime, mind you — the season is ripped away and there is nowhere to go tomorrow.
Stars’ fans had much happier memories, of course, with the two Western Conference Final Game 7 wins over Colorado when Eddie outplayed Patrick in goal, sending the Stars to their first two Finals here and their only Cup win. For the Mavericks, vanquishing the defending champion Spurs in San Antonio in the second round in ’06 catapulted Dallas toward its first NBA Finals. Sitting courtside, watching Dirk go for 37 and 15 and (lesser known fact) Keith Van Horn hitting three big 3-pointers was magical.
Now Luka and Joe Pavelski play the role of Dirk, but who could be the Van Horn for one of these teams Sunday night? Perhaps Michael Raffl for the Stars who has spent time on the Pavelski-Roope Hintz line although Jason Robertson was back in his proper spot Friday night.
“Oh, it’s gonna be a war, and I can’t wait,” Raffl said late Friday after the Stars’ 4-2 win.
Pavelski is the ageless leader of the team who found ways to enjoy his highest scoring season at age 37. It will be more of a surprise if he doesn’t do something big Sunday night than if he does.
“We expect to go and win, and I’m sure they do, too,” Pavelski said. “And we expect the game to be similar to the first six.”
By that he means tight checking, in-your-face hockey in which goals are hard-earned and rarely things of beauty. By similar, he means different from every other series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the other series that have gone six games, the total goals scored range from 38 in St. Louis-Minnesota to 50 in Pittsburgh-New York. The Flames and Stars have slushed their way to 24 goals, 12 apiece. But now only one goal matters and that’s the game-winner that sends a team into the second round.
For the Mavericks and Suns, it would be fascinating if we just get a close game. In a basketball world of buzzer-beaters, these teams aren’t even coming close to those moments. The loser has avoided double-digit defeats only twice in six games and the closest game was Dallas losing by seven points in Game 1. The last two contests have been a 30-point Suns win and a 27-point Mavericks’ victory in response.
The difficulty for the Mavericks is that no road team has cracked through the barrier for a victory yet. But Dallas led most of the first half in Game 5 and trailed by just one point early in the third quarter before a 17-0 run by Phoenix, coming seemingly from out of nowhere, ended the game for all practical purposes. In that freezing cold stretch, the Mavericks turned the ball over five times and went 0-for-5 (all but one a three-point try). But back home in Game 6, Dallas won the turnover battle, 22-6.
Somehow it feels worth nothing that the Suns’ Chris Paul is the same age as Pavelski. Of late, Paul has looked his full 37 years, committing costly turnovers and fouling out and failing to deliver the big baskets he was providing as recently as Game 2. If you were going to suggest a 37-year-old was going to come up large Sunday night, recency bias would have you leaning in the Stars forward’s direction. The extra day of rest and Paul’s own history might have you thinking the Mavs still need to be mindful of the smallest man on the court.
Either way, good grief, it’s two Game 7 finales on a single night. For about one hour, they will play side by side and you will have your own decisions to make. But it’s hard to argue with the ride each team has provided in order to lurch to this awkward and crazy conclusion.
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