When the Philadelphia Flyers beat the New York Rangers 5-2 on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, they punched their ticket to take part in what should be a truly memorable night of Stanley Cup action. The night before the Flyers beat New York, both the Minnesota Wild, and Los Angeles Kings posted big wins of their own, to put themselves on the Wednesday night "super card". All series are tied at 3 games apiece. Six teams, three games, one night. Winners move on, losers go home. April 30, 2014 will be one for the ages.
Here is a breakdown of the three series and how the teams arrived at this point.
Philadelphia Flyers @ New York Rangers (4:00 pm PT): This old school rivalry has come down to one final game. The two teams have alternated wins throughout this series, New York winning the odd-numbered games, and Philly taking the evens. Following that pattern, this game should belong to the Rangers, but it is not quite that simple. The key to this series, is the Flyers' forecheck. That may seem rather simplistic, but that's just how it is. When Philly establishes and maintains a relentless forecheck, they win, but there is a caveat. The Flyers have alternately looked either extremely dynamic, or rather weak and out of sync. The other X-factor is Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedish All-star goaltender has yet to really steal a game in this series. For the most part, He has played well enough, but basically the team that has played better on any given night, has come away victorious. So, even if Philly does outplay the Rangers in Game 7, it could be King Henry who ultimately steals the show. Also, coming off a rather ordinary showing in Game 6 (allowed 4 goals on 23 shots), Lundqvist will be looking to bounce back strong. Flyers' forward Wayne Simmonds had his first career playoff hat trick in Game 6, and the Flyers will be looking to once again establish the relentless forecheck which has been key to their success. Well worth watching.
Minnesota Wild @ Colorado Avalanche (6:30 pm PT): This has been a series of twists and turns. Colorado has at times resembled an unstoppable juggernaut, and at other times, looked like a young team, befuddled by the veteran Minnesota squad. The Avs scored nine goals in the first two games, and had a 2 games to none lead in the series. That was followed up by a shutout OT loss in Game 3, and a 2-1 loss in Game 4; the Avs were held to only 12 shots in Game 4. Colorado won Game 5, but then were thumped 5-2 in Game 6, and here we are. Each team clearly has the tools to defeat the other. Each team can look back on the series, and realize it very well could have been over already. One game will settle it all. Any mistakes made earlier in the series can be either wiped away with a victory, or magnified by a loss. This is going to be a tough gritty game. If the Avs can stay patient and pick their spots, it will favor them. If Minnesota is able to frustrate the young Avs into becoming impatient, it definitely works in favor of the Wild.
Los Angeles Kings @ San Jose Sharks (7:00 pm PT): Much has been made of the Kings' comeback in this series. After losing the first three games, Los Angeles won three straight, to force this all-important Game 7. Should the Kings complete this comeback, They would join the 1942 Toronto Maples Leafs (vs Detroit), 1975 NY Islanders (vs Pittsburgh), and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers (vs Boston) as the only teams to ever recover from a 3-0 series deficit and win the series. History may be somewhat against the Kings, but they have outscored the Sharks 13-4 over the last three games, and forced San Jose into a goalie change. Alex Stalock started Game 6 in place of Antti Niemi. It is uncertain who will be between the pipes for the northern California squad when the puck drops for this elimination game. There is no such question in net for the Kings, as they will continue to roll with the magnificent Jonathan Quick. Kings' forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were part of the 2010 Philadelphia team which made the stunning comeback against the Bruins. They both know it can be done, and looking at the series, there is no real reason to think Los Angeles is going to go back to playing the ineffective style which allowed the Sharks to score 17 goals over the first three games. Unless San Jose makes a huge strategic adjustment in this game, they will be headed to the golf course.
Wayne Simmonds Hat trick
Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds celebrates his first career postseason hat trick. Simmonds lit up Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for all three goals. The Philly power forward was named #1 Star of the game, and will need another strong outing in Game 7.
Zach Parise and the wild Wild
Zach Parise and his Minnesota Wild teammates celebrate a goal during big 5-2 win over Colorado in Game 6. In Game 7, Minnesota will need to be effective with the same tight-checking style which brought them success in Game 6.
Clutch play from Kopitar and Williams
In Game 6 vs San Jose, Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar each scored twice in the Kings 4-1 win over San Jose. Their veteran leadership will be key to the Kings continued postseason success.
Niemi or Stalock ?
This postseason, San Jose Sharks goalies Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi have not been able to come up big. It is anyone's guess as to which one will start crucial Game 7 in San Jose, but the man between the pipes is going to have to play like a champion.