FACEOFF: 8pm Central
We’ll give this one the full treatment as the winner will be the Hawks’ final step in the Western conference.
The first thing to know about tonight’s decider is that Bruce Boudreau’s record in Game 7s at home is not impressive. In fact, it’s total sewage. In 2008 Boudreau’s Caps, which were just a barely mediocre team that got hot enough to win a terrible division, lost to the Flyers in overtime (cue a Cristobal Huet stick-breaking tantrum). In 2009, the Caps made it to the second round to face the Penguins that had the NHL at its most tumescent, and they even got a Game 7 out of it. And at Verizon Center Semyon Varlamov melted down and this game was over before you could finish your first beer. The following year, the Caps fired 50+ shots at Jaro Halak, from everywhere and anywhere and in such a panicked fashion it felt like the hockey version of a teenage boy trying to bang an exotic dancer, so frantic and panicked that it was. Again, the Caps went home. They’ve never recovered from that loss as an organization. But Gabby brought this act out west with him, with the Ducks barfing up last year’s first round decider to Babcock’s Wings. So yeah, there’s some history here.
As for this series, it’s been kind of a baffling one. Though not that baffling when you boil it down to excellent goaltending. The Ducks were all over the Kings in Game 2, but the Kings won. The Kings were all over the Ducks in both Games 3 and 4, and lost both. Same with Game 5 back in Anaheim. Game 6 was about as even as this series has been, and it saw the Kings extend it the route.
Both these teams kind of mirror each other, in that they each have one nuclear top line that have to produce but some solid contributors below that. Kopitar and Gaborik carried the Kings early in this series, and Getzlaf-Perry-Smith-Pelley have been quite good as of late. And in Game 5 at home, Boudreau mostly fought fire with fire by matching Getzlaf against Kopitar. You can expect that tonight.
If those two cancel out, then it’s a race between the supporting cast. Trevor Lewis is hot of late with goals in his last two games. And the Kings have Justin Williams who is legally obligated to score in a Game 7. Also, in this era of Kings hockey, they’re 2-0 in Game 7s so they’ll have a lot more to fall on than any Boudreau-led team.
If you’re looking at this as a Hawks fan, you probably lean toward rooting for the home team tonight. But only slightly. While it wouldn’t come with home ice, the Ducks simply don’t have anything resembling a #1 d-man that can make Toews blink in the ways Suter and Brodin were in St. Paul. Yes, there’s a whole lot of speed among the forwards, and it’s easy to seen Cogliano, Palmieri, Bonino, or Perreault replicating all the damage that Haula was able to do. John Gibson may be an American Hero (TM), but he’s still only played less than 10 games in the NHL.
The Kings have their cracks as well. They do have a genuine #1 d-man in Drew Doughty who has been a satanic verse these playoffs, but not much after. They have perhaps the best two-way forward in the game in Kopitar, but they don’t have as much speed as the Ducks up and down the lineup. And the Hawks are 9-2 against the Kings the past two years, so they certainly wouldn’t be afraid of the Black and Silver.
It’s hard to back any Boudreau team in a pressure game. They just have a tendency to implode, where the Kings always seem to embrace this sort of thing. But I really don’t have much of a feel for this one, and we’ll just be happy that either team we’ll be confronted by the Hawks barely after they’re done showering after this one. The Hawks will have the chance to get the jump on either.