In the world of professional sports, no two words evoke more emotion or stir up more guttural feelings than ‘Game 7.’
By sacrificing their mind, body and soul, The Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks have earned the right to compete in a one-game, winner-take-all death match for the privilege of playing for the Stanley Cup.
The Ducks and Blackhawks have showcased the beauty of our sport through nearly 24 periods of brilliantly captivating hockey. Neither club has a thing left to hide from the other. All the skeletons are out of the closet, all the cards are on the table, all the cliches fit and it’s come down to one game.
So what’s left to give? Who has the upper hand, and what will it take to put the other team away?
For the Ducks and head coach Bruce Boudreau, this game 7 could be the first step in exercising the demons of past game 7 failures. Here are five things Anaheim must do to finish off the Blackhawks and grab a third Western Conference crown.
1. Score the first goal.
The team scoring the first goal in this series in 6-0. That speaks volumes to the importance of playing with a lead. Anaheim can send a charge through the Honda Center crowd by striking first. On the flip side, the Hawks can deflate an already fragile fan base with one shot.
2. Ryan Getzlaf must be at his best.
The Ducks captain has been good throughout the playoffs, but he’s had stretches of head-scratching play. He was “terrible” in game 6 and his team suffered mightily. Getzlaf hasn’t scored since the beginning of the Calgary series, and he’s been a turnover machine in this series. His play in neutral ice has been lazy and uninspiring. The captain can alter that perception with a great game 7.
3. Stay out of the penalty box.
The Hawks have a 22-14 advantage in the power play department. Although it’s felt more lopsided than that. Neither Chicago (3-22) nor Anaheim (2-14) have been spectacular with the man advantage, but special teams seemingly always play a significant role in game 7 outcomes.
4. Feed off the Honda Center crowd.
The Honda Center has been the scene of two crushing game 7 losses in the last two years. The hometown crowd is ready to explode. If the Ducks can get them on their feet early and often, it could give Anaheim the boost needed to squeak by a confident Chicago club.
5. Hit, hit and hit some more.
One of the bright spots of this series has been the physical play from both teams. The West is full of big teams that bang the body and we’ve seen plenty of that. Chicago, despite playing with a shorthanded defense, has been relatively unaffected by fatigue. However, by the grace of triple, double and single overtime games, this series has essentially become a best of 9. I don’t care who you are, it will take a toll the body. Anaheim needs to take advantage of that.
So how will this series end?
For my money, the third time is the charm. The Hawks are confident and play their best hockey on the biggest stage, but I can’t imagine Anaheim losing a third consecutive game 7 at home. This is a different Ducks team. They have a solid core, better goaltending and excellent leadership in the locker room. I like the Ducks to win this game in regulation.