Rangers and Flyers join NHL's big Playoffs Game Sevens Wednesday

  • Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Rangers
  • LA Kings vs San Jose Sharks
  • Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche

On Tuesday the Flyers beat the Rangers 5-2 to force a Game 7 of their playoff series, meaning three series will be decided on Wednesday evening.

Think of all the cliches you can that someone might put in the first sentence of a blog previewing what are sure to be three very entertaining Game 7 match-ups to end the first round of the NHL playoffs. Done? Good. Now, the reason I've used none of them is because there’s no need – we all know how important the phrase “Game 7” is in sports, so why go on about it? Instead, let’s get to the analyzing and the predicting. Who can win? Who will win? All will be (maybe) foretold!

Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche

Game 7: Wednesday, 9:30pm ET

Only a fool would have ever predicted anything other than this series going to seven games. What’s that you say? I did? Oh. Yes. Well, I was just testing you. And those of you who berated me in the comments for it passed that test. Your prize? A Game 7. And what a Game 7 it could be. If the series holds true to form, and the home team continues to win, the Avalanche look to be the favourite. But let’s not count on that alone.

For the Wild, they’ll be looking again to Darcy Kuemper, the rookie goalie who since replacing Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2 has helped Minnesota stem the tide that was building down in Denver. He backstopped them to two consecutive games at home, where the Wild were able to hold the Avs to a low shot count. The Wild will also be counting on guys like Zach Parise and Jason Pominville to play like they did in Game 6. In fact, if the entire team can play like they did for most of Game 6, the Wild will have a good chance at taking this one. I say most because Minnesota blew a 2-0 lead in the first, as well as a 5-on-3 power play when Paul Stastny left the box, grabbed a nice feed from Ryan O’Reilly, quickly made it 2-1, and shifted the momentum in the Avs’ favour. Less of that, and more of what followed as the Wild recovered, and they should be fine.

On the other side, the Avalanche will look to take more advantage of the power play when they get it. Matt Duchene’s return to the lineup on Monday showed what kind of difference he can make, with a nice assist on Nick Holden’s goal with the man advantage that tied things at 2. But the Avs will need everyone else to step up too – guys like Nathan MacKinnon, who was brilliant in the first few games of the series, was relatively silent in Game 6, not registering a point (perhaps something to do with Ryan Suter’s presence). And Colorado ought to shoot as much as possible on Kuemper. As good as he’s been, in Game 3 he only faced 22 shots and in Game 4 he only had 12 Avalanche shots directed his way. Both games, no surprise, went to the Wild. In Game 5? The Avs managed 35 shots in their 4-3 win. They have to keep that rookie busy.

Prediction: Avalanche. Forget what I said earlier; I am now counting on this alone.

LA Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

Game 7: Wednesday, 10pm ET

The Kings are never to be doubted when it comes to the post-season, even if you’re up by two games on them. The Sharks jumped out to an early lead in this series, and looked commanding doing so. They took Game 1 6-3, and then dominated Game 2, handing the Kings a 7-2 loss. Game 3 was a bit better for the Kings, but they still couldn’t grab a win, even on home ice. The Sharks won again, 4-3. It looked like it was all over.

Then the Kings remembered they were the LA Kings and the Sharks remembered they were the San Jose Sharks, and since then everything has basically gone according to type. The Kings have been dominant, winning three straight to force Game 7 (becoming only the 9th team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to force Game 7) and the Sharks have, as usual, made every Sharks fan nervous and annoyed (not to mention those of us who put money on them in a stupid bracket thinking, perhaps naively, that this would and will finally be their year, even though we knew deep down they’d probably find some way to screw it up).

So what’s in store for Game 7? Action moves back to San Jose, where the Sharks will have to find a way to regain whatever mojo they had in the first half of this series. How difficult is it to reverse momentum (short of conjuring a spell)? I would say quite. Still, the Sharks can do it, as long as they can find a way to play a physical shut-down game. The Kings have been out-muscling the Sharks on the puck, particularly up front, where Anze Kopitar has been playing incredibly well, scoring two goals in LA’s Game 6 win.

I’ll stop right there to note the controversy. The Sharks will argue (have argued, in fact) that Justin Williams’ game-winner on Monday night should never have counted. Here it is, for the record:

Justin Williams’ Game Six winner

Perhaps there’s an argument there that it should not have been a goal. Refs have often whistled play dead quicker, and with less of an idea of where the puck is, than they did on Monday. Also, as Harrison Mooney pointed out at Puck Daddy, shouldn’t that rule about goals being disallowed after a player initiated contact with the goalie while he’s in his crease apply here? As it did, say, in the Canadiens-Lightning series? Maybe.

But maybe it’s simpler than that. The difference could be the Sharks’ goaltending situation overall. Antii Niemi has been pulled twice so far this series, and his replacement both times, Alex Stalock, was in goal for all of that 4-1 Game 6 loss. No matter what magic the Sharks can pull off up front, it might not be enough if the goalie behind them is a dementor, sucking the life – and the season – away.

Prediction: Kings.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

Game 7: Wednesday, 7pm ET

It was hardly a total collapse, but whatever happened to the Rangers Tuesday night in Philly ought to be at the top of the list for things to avoid back home at Madison Square Garden Wednesday. They looked okay for the first 20 minutes, but then the Rangers just fell apart, giving up four straight goals and barely scraping two together at the end to retaliate.

Though the teams have traded wins throughout the first six games, the Flyers have looked like a different sort of team since goaltender Steve Mason returned in Game 3, and certainly looked much improved in Game 6 Tuesday night. Mason has been playing very well and was terrific Tuesday, outlasting Rangers’ starter Henrik Lundqvist (he was pulled in favour of Cam Talbot), and earning a chant from the crowd late in the game.

Still, the Flyers are susceptible, and are far from a lock in Game 7. Captain Claude Giroux has finally starting producing (he managed 2 assists and a goal Tuesday), and Wayne Simmonds grabbed a hat trick Tuesday night as well in their 5-2 win, but that kind of productivity has been late in coming for Philly.

Here’s that Simmonds’ hatty, by the way:

Wayne Simmonds hat-trick

Still, perhaps it’s better late than never. Tuesday’s commanding win picked up where the Flyers had left off late in Game 5. Despite losing that one, Philly fought back late in the game to come within one before Brian Boyle grabbed an empty-netter to seal the win.

For New York, Game 7 has to be very different than Tuesday night’s contest, and that means they need to look like they came to play. Even late in Game 7, when they’d finally got one back on the Flyers to make it 4-1, and with Talbot on the bench for the extra attacker, the Rangers just sort of drifted around. They lacked energy and, aside from Carl Hagelin, looked pretty limp. Rick Nash in particular resembled more a drifting shadow cast by the late afternoon sun than a top goal scorer. And the Rangers desperately need to get something going on the power play. They were 0-for-5 on it Tuesday, and have slipped to 3-for-28 this series.

Prediction: I’d like it to be different, but the Flyers look better.

NHL playoffs scores and schedule


Colin Horgan

The GuardianTramp

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