Game 7. Every hockey fan knows that there are no two better words in all of sports. Playoff hockey is incredible, hard fought 7 game series with the toughest play, more grit and an amazing energy that is unmatched in any other sports.
So far, it has been a very entertaining first round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
First we saw Tampa, who was statistically the second best regular season team in NHL history go up 3-0 in the first period of the first game of the playoffs, only to get trounced and swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in historic fashion. I was skeptical of the management in Columbus, but they proved they had faith in their team not trading away soon to be free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin (who has some of the softest hands in the show) and going to get Matt Duchene at the deadline. It paid off and they shocked the hockey world with a sweep of one of the best hockey teams ever assembled.
We saw the best player in the world (Sid) and his Pittsburgh Penguins get swept by an Islanders team that completely exceeded exceptions this year after losing their star franchise player in the offseason, with two goalies that were on fire all year. Johnny Tavares walks from Long Island to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, no problem for the Isles. And Robin Lehner, holy shit with that guy’s comeback. He drove me nuts in Buffalo as a Sabres fan but a change of environment and him addressing his personal demons gave him a fantastic Vezina candidate season. Gotta root for the guy. And Barry Trotz is proving behind the bench that he’s one of the best defensive coaches in hockey.
In the West, the top seed in Calgary got bounced in the first round. And in this series, Nathan McKinnon, the star forward for the Colorado Avalanche took over and proved to be an elite talent that should be in the conversation with players like Crosby, Kucherov, Ovechkin and McDavid. Calgary’s star power in Johnny Hockey, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk weren’t able to solve Philipp Grubauer and the Flames season came to an end after six games.
The St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets gave us an awesome six game series that the hottest team in the second half of the NHL season fought hard to win. These Blues at one point in January were the worst team in hockey in 31st place. They rallied in the second half to race to the top of the Central. Winnipeg struggled in the second half after crushing the first half of the season but still almost won the division. But the Blues were too much for them and outworked them in the playoffs. Play Gloria!
Watching the Central winning Nashville Predators play the Dallas Stars in their series made it hard to believe this is pretty much still the same team in Smashville that almost won the Cup two years ago. With some up and downs and injury issues, the Preds were pretty quiet all season but still had a good year. Ben Bishop had a Vezina candidate season and the Stars had one of the best defenses in all of hockey this year. Led by their big names in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who were called out by their team president midway through the season that they had to step up, grinded out low scoring wins all year. In this six game series, the Preds were very underwhelming, looking deflated every game, not even scoring more than 3 goals in any game all series. Their power play went an abysmal 0-12 in the series and these games were pretty boring compared to the rest of the league. The Preds still almost were able to force Game 7, losing in overtime during game 6 tonight.
And now, to close out the first round. We get not one, not two but THREE Game 7s in the first round of the Playoffs. Clear your calendar for tomorrow and Wednesday night, this is gonna be must watch hockey. Although regular elimination games that force a series to extend are usually fantastic, there is NOTHING that can match Game 7. Both teams have the season on the line and no one wants to be hitting the links the next day. Balls to the wall for a full sixty minutes and overtime if necessary. And nothing beats it!
Tomorrow we start with a rematch of last year’s Game 7 that saw the Bruins knock the Leafs out of the playoffs. The B’s were one of the best teams in hockey this year and just a wagon all season, shit pumping teams every night. I didn’t expect this series to go 7 against a Leafs team that I thought was highly overrated all season. I said that their star power offense couldn’t keep up with their lousy back end. But Freddy Anderson had a fantastic season in between the pipes and got the Leafs here. There’s a long history between these two original six teams and its gonna be buzzzzzing in the Garden for this matchup. I hate both of these teams more than any other in the NHL but I can’t wait to watch this game.
Without question for me, the most entertaining series of these playoffs so far has been the San Jose Sharks, that everyone wants to see finally get past the hump and lift Lord Stanley vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, the powerhouse team with a ton of grit that cruised through the playoffs in their inaugural season last year to shock everyone and find a spot in the Cup Finals. Everyone hockey fans would be happy to see long time vets “Jumbo” Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski raise the Cup for the first time in their careers. The Sharks were my pre-season pick to win the Cup and they were on fire for a lot of the season but struggled with injury issues and came short of winning the Pacific. Vegas was a cinderella story last year, a team of “misfits”, who together proved all their former teams wrong by making a hell of a run to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Caps last year. They added Max Pacioretty in the offseason and made the biggest splash of the deadline getting Mark Stone from Ottawa and signing him to a much deserved ticket. San Jose coming out firing in Game 1 where they dominated Vegas 5-2 and outplayed them in every way in the Shark Tank. Then Game 2 came and it was like a switch flipped and the Sharks looked like absolute garbage games 2, 3 and 4. They were outcoached, outshot and outplayed in every way possible. San Jose’s top defensive pairing in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson got torched, looking lost against Vegas’s line of Pacioretty, Stone and Stastny. Facing elimination in Game 5 and people were calling for the Sharks to start Aaron Dell over a struggling Martin Jones, but Peter DeBour stuck with his starter in Jones who got the job done. With defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic coming back from injury, the Sharks defense calmed down, they were able to beat Vegas and live another day. Game 6 on Easter Sunday was unlike any other game in the series. A tied 1-1 game took two overtimes to determine a winner and although being completely dominated in every way possible other than the score and goaltending, the Sharks pulled out a win off a shorthanded goal by Tomáš Hertl on Marc-Andre Fleury to force Game 7. But the bigger story of that game was Martin Jones proving everyone wrong with the performance of his career, stopping a franchise record 58 of 59 SOG with a crazy .983 save percentage. There’s going to be fireworks in this game tomorrow night.
Lastly, to finish off the first round on Wednesday, the Carolina Hurricanes head to the nation’s Capital to take on the best natural goal scorer in the NHL (Ovi) and the defending Stanley Cup champions. The defending champs who last summer partied harder than any champ did before against a “bunch of jerks” who went viral more and more as they won. A back and forth series that’s been tough to predict throughout. Both teams got dominated in shutouts this series and both teams won close 1 goal games (with the Caps getting their’s in OT game 2). Anything could happen in this game and that’s what Game 7 is all about.
PS: I have the Jazz/Rockets game on in the background as I write this blog and I can’t understand how people could possibly like this shit better than hockey. It’s unreal how bad the NBA is. Sick league.