One of the wildest first rounds in memory concludes Wednesday with three Game 7 showdowns. We can expect them to be thrilling and we can hope for them to go into overtime, but will we see this kind of excitement in Round 2?
For the first time since 2003, three Game 7s will be played on the same night. And as we get ready for must-see NHL TV, here are seven predictions for the evening.
1. Henrik Lundqvist will have a great game – and lose
King Henrik has a 2.25 GAA and .921 SP all-time in the NHL playoffs, which is almost identical to his regular season totals. But his Rangers hold a record in futility: The last 12 times they’ve played a game while holding the lead in a series, they’ve lost. Good thing for them, the series is all evens heading into Game 7. Philadelphia’s Steve Mason has looked terrific since returning during this round, while Lundqvist will be playing with a chip on his shoulder one night after being pulled. Plus he’s at home. New York and Philadelphia has given us the second-lowest scoring series of the first round (next to Boston-Detroit) and given the situation of both these goalies, I’m expecting a low-scoring duel in this one. And the sports gut says Lundqvist will again end up on the wrong side of the playoff tale.
2. This will be Dan Boyle’s last game in a Sharks jersey
The soon-to-be 38-year-old defenseman is a pending UFA and the Sharks will move on without him, a decision that will be made easier if they lose Game 7 to Los Angeles. He still averages the most ice time on the Sharks roster, mostly because of his power play contribution. At even strength, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun average more ice than Boyle. And though he had 12 goals this season – half on the power play – it was his lowest full-season point total since 2001-02. Will the Sharks extend him for $6 million-plus? If they lose Game 7, it’s hard to reason moving forward without any significant change.
3. Rick Nash will not score all series against Philadelphia
Nash shares the Rangers team lead in shots this post-season with 23 in six games, but he still only has four assists. Nash may be unlucky by the numbers, but he’s the big ticket pony on this team and it’s up to him to find a will and a way to score. In Game 6 of the Pittsburgh-Columbus series, after the Blue Jackets had given the Penguins a tough ride, Evgeni Malkin stepped up and scored his first three goals in the series. Nash is supposed to be that kind of difference on offense for the Rangers. With 23 career playoff games in his past, Nash has only two goals. So, unlucky or not this year, Nash has a history of not being able to score in the playoffs.
4. Patrick Roy will provide some theater
I don’t know what it will be, but it will be something. The pressure and heat of a Game 7 brings out the intensity in everyone, and Roy is one of the most intense coaches in the game today. Would it really be out of character for him to explode over a bad call late in the game, or start something with Minnesota coach Mike Yeo? But maybe it won’t even be about Roy’s explosiveness. Maybe it will be pulling his goalie with four minutes left in a two-goal deficit and coming back for the win.
5. Flyers over Rangers
As I said above, I’m looking for a low-scoring game and for Nash to fail to score his first goal of the series. The Flyers have the depth of speed and scoring on their forward unit that will make the difference in a 2-1 or 3-2 game. Philadelphia may not have the best defense, but Steve Mason is standing tall of late. He’s been very impressive. Flyers-Penguins in Round 2? Buckle up, baby.
6. Kings over Sharks, in overtime
I picked the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup (and I stand by that!), but I have a bad, bad feeling about Wednesday night. The Sharks, including their coach, appear to be in panic mode and are incredulous this series is still not over. Antti Niemi is struggling, Alex Stalock is a rookie and suddenly goaltending is a real uncertainty for the Sharks. Not good. I’m not expecting a blowout; in fact, I’m expecting the Sharks to push back with a great game. But this series has been turning and took its biggest swing in Game 6. Let’s go with Marian Gaborik in OT.
7. Wild over Avalanche
Advanced stats or the eye test? The Avs have the better regular season record, greater speed and stronger goaltending, but now they find themselves in a do-or-die game against one of the weakest offenses in the league who are playing their third-string goaltender. But the Wild have survived on a suffocating defense system that has allowed all of the four goalies who’ve played for them this season to flourish. The Wild have hung around with the Avalanche and, according to advanced stats, probably should have wrapped this one up by now. I’ll go with the new-age on this one. Wild 4, Avalanche 2. And yes, that’s an empty-netter.