By Mary Walsh
Seven. Each NHL Playoff round is a best of seven games, and three of eight first round match-ups have gone the distance. Second round dates have already been set, even for the Penguins who do not yet know who they will play.
With three Game Sevens today, it seems likely that we will see at least one upset… if you define upset as the triumph of the team with the lower position in the standings. In the case of the Pacific Division contest, the predictions have been for the third place team to upset the second place team all along, so would that even count as an upset? Is it really an upset if it was expected? Will the Kings live up to expectations, or will the Sharks reassert themselves?
All three of today’s games came to be with a Game Six win won by three goals. The Flyers and the Wild both beat their opponents 5-3 and the Kings beat the Sharks Jose 4-1. A little more eerie than that is the Philadelphia connection to Los Angeles: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were both part of the Flyers team that upset the Bruins in 2010, and now they are in another Game Seven after a three game comeback, while their old team is playing a Game Seven on the same day.
The Sharks are not playing in three games, only one. They are not even playing in seven games, they only have one tonight. Is it any different from any other game? Sharks forward Logan Couture said:
Every playoff game has a different atmosphere compared to a regular season game. I mean, guys know, obviously, what’s at stake. I don’t think it’s any big difference.
Playing in and winning a Game Seven is every young hockey player’s dream. But after squandering a three game lead in the series, the Sharks might be feeling some extra pressure. This morning, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle was asked about the fun and the pressure of a Game Seven:
This is fun, you know everyone’s going to talk about how we got to this point but at this point it really doesn’t matter. We’re in Game Seven, we got to win a hockey game to move on and we’re at home. So you’re right this is fun and we’ve got to channel our energy the right way.
The Kings won three games in a row, as did the Sharks, but the Kings played all of those games with the threat of elimination hanging over them. They were all “win or go home” situations. Is it any different for the Sharks now that they too must win or go home? This morning, Sharks defenseman Jason Demers said:
I don’t think so. But it’s like I said, it’s just about executing. You can talk as much as you want about x’s and o’s, but it’s just about executing those x’s and o’s… Just executing when we need to execute to win.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan’s approach to the win or go home situation is to go back to his core group:
I think our core on our team has to step up, and they were there early in the series. LA’s core has been there later in the series. Tonight’s the deciding game and in my opinion Nemo’s a very big part of that core and they’re going to get their chance to perform in Game Seven.
It is April 30, 2014, or 4/30/14. Add month and day together without the zeros and you get seven. Divide the year by two and you get seven. All three games start in the seventh hour, two of them at seven sharp. It seems like it should mean something, but I can’t tell what that is or what could possibly be done about it. Probably a safe bet that everyone should steer clear of deadly sins.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi said his routine would not change for this game:
I just got to think about my own game… and do the same things to get ready as I do every day.
Sounds like a plan.