Yesterday, inside this same digital space, it was noted that some unexpected event would need to be in play during Game 6 and then Game 7 would assume its own individual identity. Because the first half of that projection became reality, a classic Game 7 hockey contest will begin less than 21 hours after the Philadelphia Flyers decisive 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on home ice. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. EST at Madison Square Garden.
As for Game 7's individual identity: The pressure surrounding a lose-and-you're gone game can never be truly defined, as each group of hockey men collectively respond to a potential series and season finale based upon whatever combined factors have made them who they are. Two legendary teams, that generated nearly identical results in the regular season (Rangers-96 points, Flyers-94 points), fittingly find themselves with three wins apiece in this first round National Hockey League playoff matchup.
Steve Mason's late-season acquisition from the Columbus Blue Jackets and subsequent audition in the Flyers' crease secured the confidence of the organization. 'Mase' only has 8 playoff games on his six-season resume. But, the soon-to-be 26-year-old (May 29) proved that he's capable of being an overpowering force in post-season action. His steep challenge in Game 7 is to will his team to victory once more.
Wayne Simmonds rightfully evokes comparisons to Flyers' great Rick Tocchet. Play-making, scoring, and fighting, what more can a coach ask of a real power forward? Nothing.
Henrik Lundqvist sat out the third period of Game 6. That smart pull allowed head coach Alain Vigneault to offer his goaltender some reflection time. Back off the bench to start Game 7, 'King Henrik' has been tagged by some as giving up the iced goat when it's do-or-die. One game, this game, can help that story to evolve.
These arch rivals and this series represent the best of what playoff hockey can be, exhilarating. Whoever wins this final confrontation will play the Pittsburgh Penguins. The loser, who will be lesser by one simple ice shaving, will be banished until next season. That's how great professional athletes, in every honored sport, decisively determine who's the best among them all.