Game Seven is the epitome of excitement for sports fans, regardless of which sport it takes place in. Tonight, the Stanley Cup Playoffs host three such games, sure to leave hockey fans across North America glued to their televisions for the six-hour span the three games should take. The Philadelphia Flyers enter Madison Square Garden (MSG) to face off against the New York Rangers to start the night, followed by the Minnesota Wild visiting the Pepsi Center in the hopes of stealing the series against the Colorado Avalanche. Finally, the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings battle it out to end the night. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are far from over, but the first round will end tonight in one of the best possible ways: With three Game Sevens.
Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers
7:00 EST (NBCSN, RDS, TSN2, CSN-PH, MSG)
The series between the Rangers and the Flyers has been a back-and-forth affair. New York took Game One, Game Three, and Game Five, but the Flyers answered back with wins in Game Two, Game Four, and Game Six. Neither team could carry momentum from one game to the next, starting the next game off slowly and allowing their opponents to take over, both on the ice and on the scoresheet. With the exception of Game Four, the winning team has scored at least four goals in a win, while the losing team can never manage more than two. Whoever wins tonight’s game will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The winner of tonight’s game, and therefore the series, will be the one that grabs momentum early. The Rangers will have the MSG crowd on their side, but an early goal by the Flyers could silence the rowdy fanbase quickly. Both goaltenders have had their good games and their bad games in the series, and tonight’s game could be decided by whichever goalie outplays the other.
Prediction: Given that it is a Rangers home game, and Lundqvist has a history of consistency to back him up, it’s hard not to choose the Rangers as the winner of this series.
Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
9:30 EST (CNBC, RDS, TSN2, FS-N, ALT)
Home ice has been the deciding factor in this series, with each team winning all their home games, leading up to tonight’s Game Seven. The overwhelming advantage that both teams have had in their home arena shows just how important coaching is in the playoffs, since the home team gets last line change, and therefore gets to decide which lines face off on the ice. In their wins, the Avalanche have taken advantage of these matchups, putting their young, offensive talent against Minnesota’s bottom pairings, allowing players like Paul Statsny and Nathan MacKinnon to run amok on the Wild’s defense. For the Wild in their home games, they have snuffed out the explosive Avalanche offense by matching the lines with the pairing of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. The winner of the game will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The winner of tonight’s game will be decided by whichever star player shows up for his respective team. In the Avalanche wins, rookie Nathan MacKinnon has been leading the way, scoring 10 points in the three games, but he has been held off the scoresheet in the Avalanche losses. Likewise, for the Wild, Zach Parise has led his team offensively, also scoring 10 points in the series, with four of those points coming in the must-win Game Six.
Prediction: The home team has won every game in the series, and it is hard to expect tonight to be any different. However, this is where the youth of the Avalanche will become disadvantageous, as the veteran players on the Wild have been in Game Sevens before and will likely not let the pressure get to them. Minnesota will be the likely winners tonight.
Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
10:00 EST (NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, PRIME, CSN-CA)
The all-California first round has turned from a likely sweep into a nailbiter. The San Jose Sharks won the first three games of the series, all in pretty convincing fashion. In those three wins, the Sharks scored 17 goals, getting contributions from up and down their lineup. Everything looked to be going smoothly for the Sharks, until a blowout victory for the Kings in Game Four swung the momentum the other way. Since losing Game Four 6-3, the Sharks only managed one goal in the following two games, allowing the Kings to come all the way back to force a Game Seven. If the Kings win tonight, it will be only the fourth time in NHL history that a team overcomes a 3-0 series deficit to win the series. Though hockey fans will be watching all three Game Sevens, this one, in particular, will be the game of the night to watch. The winner of the series will stay in California and face the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
The winner of the game may be decided before the game even begins. The Sharks have two options in goal, and choosing the wrong one tonight could lead to the team’s reputation as “chokers” to reach new levels. Both Antti Niemi and Alexander Stalock have played for the Sharks in this series, but both have had their struggles. Momentum is almost completely on the Kings side, and the pressure on the Sharks not to blow such a massive series lead can not help their chances.
Prediction: Despite San Jose playing at home, the Kings will likely win the game and the series. Neither team has looked particularly good in their losses, but the Kings looked to have rebound from the poor first two games in the series and with Jonathan Quick in net, the Sharks will have a hard time recovering their suddenly anemic offense.
Tonight marks the fifth time in NHL history that three Game Sevens will be played on a single night, and the first time since April 22, 2003. At the end of the night, the hockey world will have three very happy fanbases and three crushingly disappointed ones. The hockey world will also have millions of happy hockey fans, regardless of the results of the games tonight, as there is very little that gets hockey fans more excited than a Game Seven to end a round, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone three.
This article is one in a series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
Guardian Liberty Voice
Guardian Liberty Voice