There’s nothing better in sports than a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and hockey fans will be treated to three of them Wednesday night as Round 1 concludes.
Here’s a preview and prediction for each of the three games.
Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
These rivals haven’t played in a Game 7 since the 1974 semifinals, when the Flyers emerged victorious en route to their first Stanley Cup title. After dominating the Rangers 5-2 Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the Flyers will travel to Madison Square Garden hoping to become the first team in this series to win back-to-back games.
Goaltending will be the key factor in the finale. Flyers netminder Steve Mason gave one of his best performance in Game 6 with 34 saves on 36 shots. He has allowed just three goals, with a save percentage of .959 in the last two games in Philadelphia (both wins). His numbers at MSG are far worse. Mason is 0-1 in New York in this series and 0-2-1 with a 3.85 GAA in his career at MSG.
With Mason improving each game and the Flyers’ offense looking like a well-oiled machine, the Rangers must improve on special teams to win Game 7. The Blueshirts haven’t scored a power-play goal since Game 2 (0-for-16 in last four games), and their penalty kill has given up a goal in three consecutive games (including two in Game 6). New York also must receive more scoring production from its top forwards — Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis have combined for one goal in the last three games.
Prediction: Flyers score first and clinch a 4-2 victory with a late empty-net goal.
Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Neither of these teams have won a game on the road, which gives the Avalanche an advantage in Game 7. The primary reason why is because Colorado head coach Patrick Roy can play the matchup game to get the Nathan MacKinnon line away from the Wild’s top defense pairing, which includes elite defenseman Ryan Suter. MacKinnon is tied for the playoff lead with 10 points, all of which have come on home ice.
In Minny, Suter on for 92% of Mackinnon shifts, (Mack = 0 pts, -2).. In Colorado, on for 72% of shifts (Mack = 10 pts, +7).. Enter Game 7.—
Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) April 30, 2014
The Avalanche need a stellar performance from Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov, who has given up nine goals, with a .907 save percentage, in three home games. Varlamov has been inconsistent in the series, and if he gives up the first goal in Game 7, it could cripple a young team that lacks playoff experience.
The Wild need strong games from Suter and top-line winger Zach Parise. These superstars were given matching 13-year, $98 million contracts as free agents before the 2013 season, and it’s time for them to earn that money by winning a round in the playoffs. Parise tallied two goals and two assists in Minnesota’s Game 6 victory and must be equally effective in Game 7 for his team to advance.
Prediction: Wild win 3-2 in overtime
Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
No one is surprised this series has gone the distance. However, the path taken to get there was completely unexpected.
The Kings were down 3-0 in this series but showed the heart of a champion to win three in a row and give themselves an opportunity to join the 1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders and 2010 Flyers as the only teams to win a series after falling behind 3-0. The Sharks historically fail in the playoffs: The core veterans, including captain Joe Thornton, winger Patrick Marleau and defenseman Dan Boyle, have advanced past Round 2 just twice since the 2004-05 lockout.
San Jose’s four best forwards — Thornton, Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture — have combined for just three points in the last three games after tallying 15 points in the first three games. Because of injuries on the blue line and a shaky goalie situation with starter Antti Niemi being benched for Game 6, the Sharks will need to score at least three goals to overcome their weaknesses on the back end.
Unlike San Jose, Los Angeles knows how to win. Its current roster includes many of the players who were part of the 2012 Stanley Cup team, and their championship experience and poise was evident in Game 6.
Prediction: Kings goalie Jonathan Quick dominates again and leads his team to a 3-1 victory.