When the Blackhawks defeated the Ducks 5-2 at United Center on Wednesday, it guaranteed that both Conference Finals would require a deciding Game 7. Chicago will visit Anaheim on Saturday night to determine the Western Conference winner. Friday night at what promises to be a raucous environment at MSG, the Rangers play host to the Lightning for a do or die game which will determine the Eastern Conference champion.
It’s the first time since 2000 that each Conference Final will need seven games. Fifteen years ago, the Devils completed a 3-1 comeback defeating the Flyers to win the East where they met the defending champion Stars who edged the Avalanche in seven. New Jersey prevailed over Dallas in winning their second Stanley Cup that June.
For the NHL playoffs, there’s no better theatre than a Game 7. It’s the pinnacle that the sport has to offer. The Lightning and Rangers will participate in the fourth Game 7 this postseason followed by the Hawks and Ducks who’ll take part in the fifth Game 7. In fact, since the start of the 2013 playoffs it will be the 16th and 17th times a series has gone seven.
That’s how most series have been decided. Ironically, it was 2014 Cup champion Kings who stunned the Hawks in seven to advance. They also rallied from a 3-0 first round deficit to beat the Sharks and ousted the Ducks in seven. The Rangers are no stranger to Game 7 going 2-0 against the Flyers and Pens last year while adding the Caps as their latest victim last round. Dating back to 2012 which included seventh game wins over the Sens and Caps plus a 2013 first round triumph over the Caps, they’re six for their last six. A streak that’s tied with the Red Wings (1949-64) and Bruins (1983-94) for the longest in NHL history.
Most notably, the Rangers are 6-0 all-time in Game 7’s at MSG since 1992. They prevailed twice over the Devils including the ’94 Eastern Conference Final and then defeated the Canucks to win the Cup. The other three at home have come against the Sens and Caps in 2012 and the Caps in this year’s second round. It’s enough to drive one mad. All these stats are meaningless.
Henrik Lundqvist has won his last six Game 7’s which is a league record. He’s posted a 0.97 goals-against-average. Ridiculous to say the least. His six career victories are tied for the all-time mark with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. He along with teammates Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin have been there for every single one. Rick Nash (4-0), Chris Kreider (5-0) and Derick Brassard (4-0) have never lost. Neither have Stepan or Hagelin with each a perfect 6-0.
On the Lightning side, former Blueshirts Brian Boyle (5-0) and Anton Stralman (6-0) are undefeated in Game 7’s. They added one to their resume in a first round seventh game win over the Red Wings. Defenseman Matt Carle is 4-0. The Bolts don’t have as much experience in these games but went through it in their first round comeback against Detroit. Ryan Callahan was part of the 2012 Rangers. So, he knows what it’s all about. Steven Stamkos also is playing in his second Game 7 in the Conference Final with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. He was on the Tampa team that lost to the Bruins in 2011.
As far as Game 7 history, the home team has a 94-65 record all-time for a .591 winning percentage. This postseason, the home team has won all three with the Rangers, Lightning and Caps all prevailing. The team that scores first is 117-42 (.736) all-time including 2-1 this postseason. The Rangers are the one who came back last round defeating the Caps in overtime. Forty Game 7’s have gone to overtime. If it reaches that point, all bets are off as both the home and road team have won 20 each.
So, what does it all mean? Not too much. When the puck is dropped after 8 PM at The Garden Friday, the teams will decide it. Does experience matter in such pressure situations? It helps. But if you’ve followed this series, you know better. It’s been unpredictable which is why I can’t say for sure who’ll win. I can only say with certainty that it would be wise for the Rangers to get off to a good start. They’ve only scored four goals in three home games against the Lightning in this series with the Bolts winning the last two. Scoring first could matter. It’ll be the team who imposes their will that’ll come out victorious.
The same applies to the Hawks and Ducks Saturday back in Anaheim. Interestingly, the Ducks have dropped their last two Game 7’s both on home ice including a forgettable blowout defeat to the Kings in last year’s second round. As noted above, the Hawks last Game 7 was a loss in sudden death to those Kings at United Center. So, that’s a combined three consecutive losses between the two Western participants.
Oddly enough, the Hawks’ last three Game 7’s have all needed overtime where they’re 1-2. The one win coming off the clutch stick of Brent Seabrook in the 2013 Western Semifinals over the Red Wings en route to the Cup. The two defeats came to the Canucks in 2011 and the Kings in 2014. In another irony, the winner of all three played for the Cup with only Vancouver then coached by Alain Vigneault losing in what else but Game 7 against Boston. Coincidentally Vigneault’s only defeat. He’s 5-1 all-time.
Ex-Blueshirt Brad Richards is 7-0 in Game 7. Don’t forget he was here for 2012 and last year’s run. And who can forget what he did with Martin St. Louis in Tampa back in 2004 besting the Flyers and Flames in seven for the franchise’s only Cup. St. Louis is 6-1 all-time. On the flip side, Ducks’ tandem Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have dropped their last three.
What does it all mean? Again, we’re dealing with the unknown. Some players perform better under the spotlight. There’s always a chance for new heroes to emerge. For the Blueshirts, it was Stepan most notably after setting up Kreider and McDonagh to stave off elimination won Game 7 over the Caps. It’s not possible without Lundqvist, who faced a barrage the first five minutes of sudden death. If you want to give them an edge, it’s probably in net with Lundqvist having so much success while counterpart Ben Bishop is in his second Game 7. He got a shutout in his first.
For hockey and NBC, it’s a huge win. Game 7 brings out the best. It shapes up to be an exciting weekend.