Friday, May 11, 2012

NHL Game 7s, the Best Theatre in Sport

A Game 7 in the NHL Playoffs provides, in my opinion, the most exciting dynamics in all of sports. The finality of it all. Knowing your opponent inside and out after two weeks of battling. The rivalry that is formed and the match-ups that have been played out with success and failure. Adjustments that are made on the fly during games and in the day off between games. Physical punishment that has been delivered and accepted. The anxiety of the teams and their fan bases. The release of emotion when one team is able to gain a significant advantage in the game. The looks to the sky to say thank you when the goalie makes a huge save, when a defenseman blocks a shot on an open net, or just to look at the scoreboard clock as it ticks down.

The thrill of Game 7, so much energy and intensity. The Caps and Rangers have played a Game 7 already in the first round, but each series takes on its own personality and has its own flow and rhythm. For Washington and New York the series has bounced back and forth with neither team being able to carry momentum very long. This Game 7 will be a test of composure and patience. It will be low scoring and tight checking. Both goaltenders are playing well and the defense is blocking tons of shots. The Caps and Rangers are fully committed to a team game and Game 7 should be no different.

Usually Game 7's are played very tightly. Teams play conservatively and check very tightly. Players take fewer chances because they do not want to make the big mistake. There are also fewer penalties in many cases as players are very careful about their actions. No one wants to be the goat!

Game 7 is its own animal. Intense, tight, pensive... Game 7 is fraught with emotion. Saturday's Game 7 between the Rangers and Caps will be no different. Just playing it in Madison Square Garden brings another level of intensity, limelight, and anticipation. New Yorkers love big events and they will be pumped for this one.

Both teams have great expectations now. The Rangers, having one of their best seasons ever, expect to beat the Caps and move on to the conference finals as the favorite to win the Cup. They know what a great opportunity lies ahead. They can have home ice for the Finals if they win Game 7 against the Caps and take care of New Jersey. No small task.

Washington has renewed hopes of winning a Cup despite an up and down regular season. In previous playoff years the Caps were favorites. While expectations were probably not that high at the start of the playoffs, the surprising play of rookie goaltender Braden Holtby and the defensive style Coach Dale Hunter has infused in the team has Caps fans thinking that this might be the year. Why not? As a #7 seed in 2010 the Flyers made it all the way to Game 6 of the Finals. Furthermore, the Kings and Coyotes await on the other side, and neither has had much playoff success in recent history. And, the Devils who do have some playoff experience, also are counting on many young players who have not gone this deep in the playoffs.

The opportunity to win a Cup is very clear to both of these teams. It is a realistic dream, but a dream that could be shattered Saturday night. Winning this Game 7 could be the next step on a dream run. Losing this game brings with it another year of "should have beens" and disappointment. Remember that when you watch this game. This may be the BEST CHANCE any of these players ever has to win the Cup (or win it again for a few of the players). So, if you see a player skate through three defenders at full speed just to blast an opponent in to the boards, don't be surprised. It is Game 7 and the Rangers and Caps will do anything to win and move on. It will be special and I can't wait.

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