While the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins catch up on some rest before facing off in the Eastern Conference finals, the picture out West is finally ready to come into focus
The Bruins and Penguins both wrapped their respective Eastern Conference semifinal series in five games, but a pair of Game 7s will be needed to decide which teams get to battle for the West title.
Game 7s are always good news for sports fans. We get to see the already high stakes of the playoffs get boiled down to its essence, as two teams play one final game to find out who is the better team.
For once, the hype machine isn't needed because a Game 7 is more than capable of selling itself.
First up is Tuesday's clash between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Kings, of course, are the defending Stanley Cup champions and they hope Game 7 sticks to the same script the rest of the series has followed, or else their chances of repeating are over.
The home team has won all six meetings in the series, and L.A. carries a 13- game winning streak as the host going into the final clash. The Kings haven't lost at Staples Center since March 23 against Vancouver, but Sharks head coach Todd McLellan thinks the pressure is clearly on the home team.
"We really don't have anything to lose," McLellan said. "We're going to play Game 7 against the Stanley Cup champs in their building. We look forward to that challenge."
Pressure is only one part of the equation, however. A bigger question is will the Sharks be able to solve Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick when it matters most? San Jose has scored just three goals in three road games against L.A. in this series and Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has posted two shutouts on home ice. Quick helped his team win Game 1 by a 2-0 score before anchoring a 3-0 triumph in Game 5.
"It's time for us to get there and try to change the story," McLellan said. "Obviously, we're going to have to play a much better game than we did the last time in that building. They earned the right for home ice. It's our job to take it away from them."
Although the Kings figure to have the odds in their favor due to home ice, this is a new situation for head coach Darryl Sutter's club. When L.A. won its first Stanley Cup title a year ago, Sutter led the team to a 16-4 mark in the postseason and the Kings only went past five games once. That was in the Stanley Cup Finals, where L.A. needed six games to defeat the New Jersey Devils.
When asked whether he thought this series had a chance to go seven, Sutter answered with his trademark deadpan humor.
"Yep. Why not? I think every series has the chance to go seven. Somewhere between four and seven."
I guess if you can't play the underdog role, keeping them laughing is another good way to make sure the locker room stays loose.
On Wednesday, we'll get to see a different kind of Game 7, as the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks try to pull off a memorable comeback after trailing Detroit three games to one.
This Original Six encounter has been a series of streaks. The seventh-seeded Red Wings won three straight after losing Game 1 in Chicago, but the Blackhawks have rattled off consecutive victories to even things.
For a team like the Blackhawks, who went 24 straight games without a regulation loss to open the regular season, taking three in a row from Detroit to win this series is expected at this point. Still, the Red Wings hardly looked overmatched in Game 6 on Monday, as Chicago grinded out a 4-3 win in Detroit to set up what could be another close affair in Game 7.
"We've got that momentum," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "We want to keep it."
Like McLellan is doing for San Jose, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock is playing the "just happy to be here" card with his team. It's a tactic designed to keep the troops loose, and if your team is labeled the underdog, it makes sense to embrace the designation.
"If I would've told Detroit and Michigan we would play in Chicago in Game 7, I think everybody would be excited about that," Babcock said.
Of course, Game 7s are a treat for the fans to watch, but the players and coaches involved in the do-or-die games seem just as excited.
"It's one game. This is what we play for," said Sharks center Logan Couture.
The time for manufactured excitement is over. Tune into the NHL playoffs over the next two days and catch a glimpse of the real thing.