By Pat Pickens and Dave Turner
It doesn’t get more exciting than Game 7 in the NHL Playoffs. Two, in consecutive nights, for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final? That’s nothing short of much-watch TV. We break down both series and predict who’ll come out on top in both winner-take-all Game 7’s.
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Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers
The series: 3-3 — Blueshirts won Games 1 (2-1), 4 (6-2) and 6 (7-3); Lightning Games 2 (6-2), 3 (6-5) and 5 (2-0)
The site: Madison Square Garden, New York
The history: The Rangers have won seven consecutive home Game 7s dating back to 1992 and have won their last six since 2009. Henrik Lundqvist has been the starting netminder and boasts a 1.00 goals-against average in seven career Game 7s. Like the Rangers, the Lightning are 1-0 in Game 7 this postseason. Ben Bishop pitched a shutout in his lone Game 7 appearance, stopping 31 of 31 in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
Players to watch: Tyler Johnson leads all playoff performers with 12 goals and 20 points. His linemate Nikita Kucherov is second with 19 points. Steven Stamkos has seven goals and is one of only two Lightning players to reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals — when he, Victor Hedman and Tampa Bay lost 1-0 to the Boston Bruins in 2011.
For the Rangers, Rick Nash is heating up at the perfect time. The winger posted a playoff career-high four points in the Rangers’ 7-3 win in Game 6 and has seven points in six games this series against Tampa Bay. Derick Brassard leads the Rangers with nine goals, and Derek Stepan has an overtime, game-winning goal in a Game 7 this playoff year already — doing so in the last round against Washington.
Pat’s Pick: Rangers 2, Lightning 1. The Blueshirts don’t lose these games — particularly at home. Lundqvist tends to play really well in Game 7s — he hasn’t given up more than one goal in any one since 2009 — and the Lightning are a little too raw to win this game in New York.
Henrik Lundqvist/(JamesTeterenko- wiki commons)
The series: 3-3 — Ducks won Games 1 (4-1), 3 (2-1) and 5 (5-4 OT); Blackhawks won Games 2 (3-2 OT), 4 (5-4) and 6 (4-2)
The site: Honda Center, Anaheim CA
The history: Neither team has played a game seven this season, with the Blackhawks winning in six over Nashville and four over Minnesota. The Ducks dispatched the Jets in four and the Flames in five. Despite that, neither team is a stranger to Game 7s. The Hawks have played three Game 7s in the past five seasons, with losses coming to Vancouver in 2011 and Los Angeles in the Western Conference Final last season. Their lone recent victory in the seventh game was over the Red Wings in 2013. As for Anaheim, they haven’t fared well in Game 7’s recently, losing in 2009 and 2013 to the Red Wings and then last year to the Kings in the Conference Semi-Final Round.
Players to watch: Anaheim has had nice depth scoring throughout the playoffs, but it has been the sensational play of Ryan Getzlaf with 19 points (2g, 17a) and Corey Perry with 17 points (9g 8a), who have paced the Ducks offensively. Not to be overlooked is Jakob Silfverberg. The young Swedish winger has tallied 17 points (4g, 13a) in a breakout playoff campaign, playing alongside Ryan Kesler. The Blackhawks have been paced by none other than Patrick Kane’s 17 points (10g, 7a). Right behind him is do-everything center Jonathan Toews with 16 points (7g, 9a) and perennial Norris contender Duncan Keith with 16 points (2g, 14a) as well.
Though its most of the usual suspects at the top for both of these teams, Chicago and Anaheim have tremendous depth. The game winning goal may very well come from an unlikely source, as is many times the case in Game 7.
The Pick: The Ducks can’t possibly lose at home in Game 7, right? Tell that to the Chicago Blackhawks. After Chicago lost last year at home to the Kings, this team has been on a mission to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. Though the Ducks are a tremendously talented, heavy team to play against, the Blackhawks will show their mettle, winning 3-2 in overtime.