People say there’s nothing better in sports than a Game 7. It’s hard to deny the greatness of two teams battling to continue their season and the excitement of a winner-take-all game. But in this case, I have to disagree—I can think of something better than a Game 7. No, the only thing better than a Game 7 in the NHL playoffs is THREE Game 7’s in the NHL playoffs!
The Ducks and Bruins were both starring at offseasons filled with golf courses and “what ifs” going into their Game 6’s on Tuesday night. Instead of going the way of the Vancouver Canucks, both came up with their most impressive games of their respective series and have earned the right to play on Thursday for all the marbles (well, until their next series). For those people that say their just fans of “good hockey,” they definitely got their wish for the rest of the week. Over the next 2 days, we’re going to see more intensity packed into 3 games than some fans have experienced with their beloved teams all season!
The Bruins went on the road and took the play to the Hurricanes from the opening faceoff. Five minutes into the game, the B’s were up 2-0 and they never looked back. If you were going to write a script on how to take an opponent’s crowd out of the game and win on the road, this is how it would read. Score early, be the aggressor and never let your foot off the pedal. None of those well publicized fireworks that happened at the end of Game 5 carried over at all. When you strip away all of the other stuff going on in the game and the series, here’s what happened: The Bruins went into Carolina and for the first time of the series, they LOOKED like the #1 seed in the East.
Likewise, the Ducks waited until the 6th game of their series to show the world what they’re capable of doing when they play their kind of game. Detroit fans will tell you that the Red Wings never brought the intensity that they needed in an elimination game—and they’re probably right. Prior to Game 6, the Ducks were less than convincing in their 2 victories in the series. It took 59 saves by Jonas Hiller to win a triple overtime thriller in Game 2; and it took a horrible call by Brad Watson and another 45 saves to steal Game 3. But the truth of the matter is that the Ducks were the better team for the majority of Tuesday’s Game 6 and DESERVED to win. But even though the series is tied, this is the first time you can say that the Ducks were the better team.
Both the Bruins/Hurricanes and the Ducks/Red Wings will decide their series on Thursday night. But that’s only 2/3rds of the Game 7 trifecta that will tie up the rest of hockey fans’ week. In case you haven’t heard, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals are also headed to a decisive Game 7 (I hear it’s getting a little attention). For all the buildup that’s surrounded the series, it’s doing a pretty good job of living up to the hype. David Steckel’s overtime goal on Monday sent the NHL’s marquee series to a climatic Game 7—surely to the delight of Versus, the NHL and Gary Bettman.
So now that we know that just about all of the conference semi-finals series are going the distance (thanks a lot Canucks), what in the world can we expect? Well, Game 7’s are notoriously unpredictable—so I don’t think ANYONE definitively knows what’s going to happen. But taking the last couple of weeks into consideration, we should have some idea of what MIGHT happen.
The Bruins look like they might have turned the corner in their series against the Hurricanes. Since they had their back up against the wall going into Game 5, it looks like they’ve collectively raised their game to a completely new level. At no time in either Game 5 or Game 6 did Carolina look like they had a chance to win. It’s the reaction that I was waiting to see earlier in the series, but Bruins fans should be happy that their team pulled it together before it was too late. If Boston continues to play with the grit and aggression that made them so good during the regular season, it’s going to be tough for the Hurricanes to pull off the upset on the road. But after their thrilling comeback victory against the New Jersey Devils in the 1st round, I’m not about to bet against them anytime soon!
Ducks fans should be ecstatic that their team was able to push the series to the limit—but it might be time for a reality check. The Red Wings have been the better team in 5 out of 6 games this series. If Detroit brings the same type of intensity that they had in Games 4 and 5, then there will probably be a couple of Original Six teams in the Western Conference Finals.
But just like the CAR/BOS series, there’s no way I’d touch this game if I was in Vegas. Even though the Wings have been the better TEAM for the majority of the series, Jonas Hiller has been the best player on either team in the series. He single handedly won all 3 games when the Ducks prevailed—he’s been the #1 star in each of their wins. Something else to consider: Will there will be any repercussions from the extracurricular activities after the final horn? Scott Niedermayer, Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski all got fighting majors after the game ended. Corey Perry also picked up a 10 minute misconduct, while Todd Marchant earned a game misconduct for his actions. It’s doubtful that any of these players will be suspended, but we never know where Colin Campbell’s “Wheel of Justice” will land. Fines, suspensions or no-action—your guess is as good as mine.
The atmosphere at the Phone Booth in Washington DC is going to be absolutely nuts. It’s pretty safe to say that 18,000 people will be Rockin The Red. With the amount of HATE that has built-up over the 1st six games, I’m confident the fans will be into the game from the opening face-off.
Looking at the 2 teams, both of the major questions I have for Game 7 are on the Pittsburgh Penguins side. First, will Alex Goligoski be able to adequately fill the shoes of Sergei Gonchar (the Pens best defenseman). He did a good job in Game 6, but the deciding game will be a completely different animal and on the road. He’ll have to be just as good if the Penguins want to win. Secondly, and more importantly, which Marc-Andre Fleury is going to show up? His .901 save percentage and 2.78 goals against average have both been on the mediocre side. If the Game 6’s taught us anything, mediocre goaltending simply isn’t good enough anymore. I know that Fleury helped lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, but am I the only one that trusts Simeon Varlamov more than Pittsburgh’s netminder?
These Game 7’s are going to be great since I don’t have a dog in any of the fights. I’ll get all of the excitement and energy, without that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that only the stress of playoff hockey can provide. I’m not sure I could handle it if my team was pressed into a one-game-winner-take-all scenario. I wouldn’t even want to watch (but I probably would anyway)! But this is one of those rare moments that I’m GLAD my team isn’t involved. Mrs. Cheap Seats and I can just kick back, order a pizza and go on hockey overload. And the best part—I don’t care who wins.
Give me the excitement of Game 7 and get out of the way—that’s all I need. Well, that’s all I need until the Conference Finals!