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Klee: Avalanche needs a hockey hero in Game 7

By Paul Klee Updated: April 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

DENVER — As a teammate ribbed Nathan MacKinnon about his neon-orange sneakers in the Avs dressing room Tuesday, the term "hero" didn't spring to mind.

Heroes could wear neon-orange sneakers, I suppose. There's no hero dress code.

Let's remember, though, these guys are hockey heroes, not real-world heroes. The latter is reserved for doctors, soldiers, good parents. Definitely good parents.

So when a hero emerges from Game 7 at Pepsi Center, he'll be a hockey hero. And that's cool, too. Because from late Wednesday night until his career is over, he will forever be tied to the deciding game of a riveting series between the Avs and Wild.

As a bonus, he gets an addition to his surname:

Max Talbot, hero of Game 7, for example.

"I have four (Game 7s) of my own," said Talbot, hero of a Game 7. Talbot got his new title by scoring the game-winner in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.

"I feel like the excitement is a little bigger. The stage is bigger. And you remember those games," Talbot said. "I won in Game 5s, Game 6s. But when I lost in a Game 7, I feel like it's bigger."

Talbot was an unlikely candidate to emerge as hero of a Game 7. On a Penguins roster with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Talbot was a role guy.

"It can be anybody," he said.

If the Avs win, it could be Jamie McGinn. It could be Cody McLeod. It could be one of the big guns - Gabriel Landeskog or Paul Stastny. It could be MacKinnon, whose playoff performance has changed the way we should view the future of the franchise.

It could be the goalie, Semyon Varlamov, whose big-game nerves have been tested in world championships, Olympics and NHL playoffs. For the Wild, it could be goalie Darcy Kuemper, who really hasn't been tested and is playing in his first playoff series. Avs coach Patrick Roy believes the key player in a Game 7 is the goalie.

"Of course it is," he said.

It could be Talbot, again.

Whoever it is, it will be someone.

"You cannot win a Stanley Cup without winning a Game 7," Roy said. "The players are going to learn how to play a Game 7. How good is this?"

If the Avs win, it will probably be someone new. Among the players who will be on the ice Wednesday, Talbot is the only one who has played in a Game 7.

That would be an alarming fact if this Avs season didn't seem like one long Game 7. Their penchant for stealing wins from the jaws of defeat has built a gaudy confidence in close games. During the regular season, their record in one-goal games was 28-4-8, the best mark in the NHL.

"How great have we been when we're down a goal, or 6-on-5?" Talbot said. "In these key moments we always reacted well. That's how I'd like our team to react (in Game 7). We've been liking the pressure this year."

Roy suggested the Game 7 hero could be a player who throws his body across the ice to block a shot or the guy who finishes a hard check.

If the Avs win, here is one man's hunch: it will be Ryan O'Reilly or Matt Duchene, whose on-ice chemistry in Game 6 didn't skip a beat, even after Duchene's four-week absence.

"I thought he played outstanding," Roy said.

So perhaps one of those two will add a new title their name: hero of Game 7.

"I find the best part of hockey is when the most pressure is on," O'Reilly told me.

It will be someone.

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Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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