Game Seven. Hockey Heaven. Is there anything in all of sports better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs? I say the Stanley Cup Playoffs smoke other sports. (You can read it here). The only thing better is a game seven in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And for those of us who are avid hockey fans, we have not only one, but two game sevens this weekend. We are fast approaching hockey nirvana.
We are indeed some lucky folks. First, it’s the epicenter of the sports universe, Madison Square Garden, for the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the New York Rangers. The series has ebbed and flowed for both teams, but the thought is that the Rangers have the Lightning right where they want them. (See the article by my colleague Jake Gittler). Gittler reminds us that Henrik Lundqvist has gone 4-0 in elimination games
in these playoffs, three against the Washington Capitals and one against the Lightning.
Barry Melrose, ESPN hockey analyst said on the Mike and Mike radio program Friday morning, “I don’t believe in momentum, I don’t believe in home ice, I believe in a hot goaltender.” Right now, that distinction belongs to Lundqvist. With a .928 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average, Lundqvist is indeed playing well. But the thing that makes Melrose and others believe in the Rangers is his absolute calm under pressure.
Kevin Allen of the USA Today had this to say about Henrik Lundqvist and game seven or elimination games:
“He’s 4-0 in Game sevens at home and 15-3 in games since 2012 in which the Rangers have faced elimination.”
That is quite the impressive statistic for a goalie that has never hoisted the Cup. Allen added,
“The Rangers are 7-0 all time in Game 7 NHL playoff games played at Madison Square Garden.”
That cannot give the Lightning a whole lot of confidence going into this game seven.
Bishop No Game Seven Slouch
Before everyone notches the “W” for the Rangers, the play of Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop has to be considered. Bishop has two shutouts in the playoffs thus far to Lundqvist’s zero. Bishop is sporting a .917 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average.
Lest we forget, one of those shutouts occurred in this game seven venue, Madison Square Garden, when the Lightning beat the Rangers 2-0. Bishop was stout making 26 saves in the shutout.
The Rangers are 7-0 in game sevens at MSG. But, that does not guarantee they will be 8-0 and on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals after Friday night’s contest. A reminder from Kevin Allen:
“But statistics can cut both ways. The Lightning have won four of five games at MSG this season, and two of those have come in the postseason.”
It may be a bit premature to “ink-in” the Rangers, as Bishop and crew are definitely not going to roll over in the face of the Rangers’ impressive game seven statistics.
Who do you like?
When the final horn sounds, and the handshake line assembles, who do you think will be saying “good luck” and facing a long hot summer of disappointment?
Melrose likes the New York Rangers and their hot goaltender.
“Frankly, the Lightning should carry confidence, even with their dud of a finish in Game 6. They’ve made a mess of Madison Square Garden of late in posting a 2-0 record there in the regular season and winning two of three games in the storied building during this series. Don’t expect them to wilt when they walk into the season’s hottest spotlight.”
Sounds ominous for the home team, right? The betting public doesn’t think so. Currently the Rangers are -157 as of this writing. Those are certainly not overwhelming odds for the favorite, but it does say that the money is on the Rangers to win and advance to the Cup Finals.
Nicholas Goss at nesn.com likes the Blueshirts.
“The Rangers have won six consecutive Game Sevens at Madison Square Garden, and that, combined with Lundqvist’s stellar elimination game record, makes it difficult to pick against the Blueshirts. New York wins 4-2”
Apparently Goss thinks Bishop will not rise to the occasion. The Twitter-verse is weighing in:
— Kelsrardi (@NYRKelsMads) May 29, 2015
But, as I said at the outset of this article, no matter who you want to win or think will win, one thing is certain. The next two nights each feature a game seven which is for the fans, hockey heaven:
The two best words in the NHL…GAME SEVEN! This is going to be a great hockey weekend!
— Todd Stinson (@trstinson) May 29, 2015
Feel free to comment below with your predictions for Lightning versus Rangers.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.