Game 7 is the ultimate win-or-go-home scenario, with no holds barred, odds cast aside and a situation where teams will do anything to advance. The 2014 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs will treat hockey fans to a triple-header of such elimination showdowns on Wednesday, making all of these contests worth tuning in for.
ESPN's official Twitter alluded to the chaos that has occurred in the sports world as of late, but pro hockey has been particularly entertaining with its improbable plot twists and extra periods:
Overtime is certainly something the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild can relate to, as three of their six opening-round games have gone beyond regulation. But the Avs need to bounce back after getting blown out 5-2 in Game 6.
In fact, all three of the higher seeds in action Wednesday had a chance to close out their foes on the road and failed to do so. They weren't even close, for that matter, losing by a combined score of 14-5.
Here is a look at the schedule and odds for each Game 7 on tap, along with predictions as to how they will play out as the epic opening chapter to these NHL playoffs continues.
|2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule for Wednesday, April 30|
|Game 7 Matchup||Odds (Puck Line)||Time (ET)||TV||Pick|
|New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers||New York (-1.5/+210), Philadelphia (+1.5, -260)||7 p.m.||NBC Sports Network||Rangers|
|Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild||Colorado (-1.5/+215), Minnesota (+1.5/-255)||9:30 p.m.||CNBC||Avalanche|
|San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings||San Jose (-1.5/+215), Los Angeles (+1.5/-255)||10 p.m.||NBC Sports Network||Kings|
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
From the beginning of Game 6, it was clear that the Flyers weren't going to let the Blueshirts invade their home rink and knock them out of the postseason.
On the strength of a hat trick by Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia roared to a 5-2 victory to force Game 7 back in Madison Square Garden. The question is whether the Flyers can keep that up after expending so much effort in front of an impassioned home crowd at Wells Fargo Center.
Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported what Simmonds had to say after the game, which reflected Philadelphia's evident mindset:
Flyers goalie Steve Mason did everything but stand on his head for the majority of the most recent win, yet he did start to leak some oil toward the end when New York put in two seemingly inconsequential third-period goals. It will be on Mason to outperform past Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in the Big Apple spotlight.
Lundqvist will certainly want to bounce back from a lackluster performance where he conceded four goals in two periods. Even if the defensive breakdowns in front of him weren't his fault—and Simmonds' final goal on a redirection was borderline unstoppable—he should take pride in playing up to his typical standards.
If this series continues to play out as it has, with the Rangers winning the odd-numbered games and the Flyers winning the even-numbered contests, that means New York is the clear pick at home, right?
That may sound trivial or nonsensical, but with the way this series has gone back and forth, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the Flyers run out of gas. They won't summon enough energy after Tuesday's draining effort, allowing the Rangers to advance after a series that will have lived up to the hype.
Prediction: Rangers 2, Flyers 1
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
Home cooking is just what coach Patrick Roy's club needs in Denver, as it faces almost an identical situation to what the Rangers encountered Tuesday, albeit with an added day of rest.
The game plan is simple yet easier said than done: Stop Zach Parise. Minnesota's star left winger tallied two goals and two assists in Game 6 and had at least a point in each of the previous five contests. That matches him with Avs prodigy Nathan MacKinnon for an NHL-best 10 points this postseason.
Parise shared his thoughts about Game 7 with Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
Everyone talks about how young of a team [the Avalanche] have, and we're a relatively young team too with a lot of guys who don't have a lot of playoff experience. So, when you can play in a game like this it will help us in the long run. You have to win these games on the road.
Roy has hinted that the Wild and Avs were playing some of the best hockey in the league toward the end of the regular season, making a Game 7 only logical, per NHL.com's Rick Sadowski:
If I look at the big picture, we were almost the best two teams in the last stretch of the season. Then it's normal what we're seeing so far. They played well in their building and they won big games. We played well in our building and we have to play well. Both teams had to be resilient at some point. [Wednesday] we're going to have to be resilient again. I love to have that game in our building
It will be critical for the Wild to be physical and knock the high-powered Avalanche offense led by MacKinnon and Paul Stastny (nine points in the playoffs) on its heels.
But that could come at the expense of numerous trips to the sin bin. Colorado's top-five power play is bound to take as much advantage as it has all series of Minnesota's weak penalty-killing unit, which ranked 27th in the NHL in 2013-14.
That disparity should have revealed itself by now, but somehow the Avs have only converted two out of 22 power-play opportunities in this series. Look for them to double that goal total in Game 7 in front of a pumped-up Pepsi Center crowd. Colorado will assert its superiority in advancing to the next stage of the playoffs in emphatic fashion.
Prediction: Avalanche 4, Wild 2
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have the advantage of home ice, but they are in grave danger of becoming the fourth team in history to blow a 3-0 series lead.
Bearing the weight of that pressure and the improbable momentum the Kings have generated nullifies San Jose's perceptive edge at SAP Center.
To use an appropriate cross-sports analogy, this series has truly been a tale of two halves. It appeared that the Sharks would run away with this Golden State rivalry, winning the first two games and scoring 13 goals in that span before grinding out a 4-3 overtime triumph in Los Angeles in Game 3.
Somehow the Kings have gotten off the mat and fought back, exploding on offense in a 6-3 victory before Jonathan Quick began to stand taller between the pipes. Quick has yielded just one goal in the past two contests, flashing the form that won him the Conn Smythe Trophy in L.A.'s 2012 Stanley Cup run.
SportsCenter's official Twitter account alluded to the flurry of goals the Kings poured in during the third period of Game 6, which has San Jose on its heels more than it has been all season:
But the star goalie drew controversy by going after Sharks captain Joe Thornton toward the end of that contest, and ESPN's Adnan Virk was not pleased with Quick losing his characteristic cool:
This is precisely what makes the playoffs so fun, though. Quick gives the Kings the clear edge as the last line of defense, and the underdogs are playing with plenty of confidence and are fully capable of knocking off their higher-seeded intrastate adversaries.
Neither Antti Niemi nor Alex Stalock are showing much mettle as Sharks goaltenders. Niemi was pulled in Games 4 and 5, then Stalock allowed four goals on 30 shots in Game 6's loss. Coach Todd McLellan may have cost his team in that regard, as the Sharks seem poised to swim among the grimmest NHL playoff collapses of all time.
Prediction: Kings 3, Sharks 2
Not much more could be asked for in the opening round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in terms of entertainment value, but the fanbases involved in Wednesday's action have to be agonizing with anticipation.
Should the Rangers and Kings win, it will prove that stability in the net and overall composure are vital to a team's cause in pursuing the Stanley Cup. The Flyers and Sharks will likely have to go back to the drawing board in their search for more consistency in the event that they are indeed eliminated.
Both Colorado and Minnesota would be good stories, but seeing the young, firepower-filled lineup out of Denver featuring MacKinnon, Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly move on would be excellent for the league. With the likes of the franchise's legendary goalie in Roy manning the bench and former star center Joe Sakic serving as a front-office executive, the Avs continue to be one of the most compelling organizations to monitor in the NHL.
All of these predictions could go wrong, though, because when it's Game 7, all bets are and should be off. Competitive fire and determination will distinguish the deserving winners when Wednesday's dream showcase concludes.