Scott Walker and Patrik Elias exchange some words as an official steps between them. The two teams are tied 3-3 and will play Game 7 in New Jersey Tuesday night. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
This is what playoff hockey is all about.
Unfortunately, because of the ongoing spat between Canadian cable providers Bell and Rogers many of us north of the border won’t see a good chunk of what should be the better game and has easily been the better series all along: The Devils-Canes.
Like a tug-of-war between two teams of world-class weightlifters, New Jersey and Carolina have gone back and forth in the series and no one has ever had a foothold or an advantage.
When the Devils jumped out of the gate in Game 1, it looked like the Hurricanes were going to be out-classed and the series would not be a long one. However, the Canes won Game 2 in overtime – to which the Devils said ‘oh yeah, we can beat you in OT in your building, too!’ – and again evened the series with a slim 4-3 win at home in Game 4. After the teams – both led by goalies more than capable of winning at least one series on their own – traded shutouts in Games 5 and 6, the stage was set for a Game 7 that will top off what has been the best and probably least-watched series so far.
The matchup was the least sexy from the get-go. No flashy, household superstars; no pesky headliner pests; no must-watch, talked-about young guns. A Canes-Devils showdown has a connotation attached to it that makes you think you’d rather watch paint dry. But the fact of the matter is this series has been home to some great hockey.
It’s got the goalies, it’s got the difference-making underdogs (Chad LaRose and David Clarkson have been great to watch) and, most importantly, it’s got tremendously evenly-matched lineups.
It wasn’t too long ago both of these teams were Stanley Cup champions. The Canes, winning in 2006 fresh out of the lockout, the Devils last doing it in 2003, but both still have large chunks of past success intact.
Key players such as Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Staal and Erik Cole still lead Carolina and vets Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias and John Madden continue to provide the backbone that has propped New Jersey up among the league’s best for more than a decade.
Both defense corps are viciously underrated simply because they don’t have a big name, but they have performed admirably well and whoever wins Game 7 will give the next team they face headaches, migraines and nightmares.
The story, of course, has been the goaltending. All-time great Marty Brodeur and Conn Smythe-winner Cam Ward have both been on top of their games and whenever two world-class goalies trade saves through a two-week series you can be sure it will ultimately be decided by one timely goal late in the deciding game.
The Capitals-Rangers series has somehow found its way to Game 7, too. But no matter how much I think about it, I can’t figure out how it got here.
Sure the Rangers jumped out to 2-0 and 3-1 series leads, but, c’mon, they have never looked like they could beat the Capitals in this series, ever.
Now that the Caps have supplanted starter Jose Theodore with upstart Simeon Varlamov and gotten over their anxiousness to prove themselves after last season’s first round, Game 7 shortfall, they have regained the momentum and advantage and it really doesn’t look like they can lose now. While the Caps have been settling in, the Rangers have been completely blowing up.
From Sean Avery’s sideshow, to John Tortorella’s eruption and subsequent suspension, to Henrik Lundqvist – the only reason the Rangers haven’t pulled out their golf clubs yet – being pulled two games in a row, New York is in shambles. It’s tough for any team to get themselves up and bounce back from decisive 4-0 and 5-3 losses for a Game 7 on the road, let alone one without a true top-line player or two who can grab his team by the scruff of the neck and drag them across the finish line.
It’s unfortunate many Canadian hockey fans will be robbed of the better series so we can see Alexander the GR8 and his disciples demolish the lowly Rangers.
But if you catch a glimpse of New Jersey-Carolina in so-called ‘bonus coverage’ put the trip to the fridge on hold and wiggle back into your butt imprint on the couch to take in all you’re able to. It’s really not even close as to which of these series has consisted of better hockey and which of these Game 7s will be better to watch.
We, as hockey fans, should be able to watch any and all Game 7s that come up.
Because that’s what playoff hockey is all about.
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