Finally, it has arrived: Game 7, the pinnacle of any hockey series, the winner-take-all contest.
The Chicago Blackhawks have fought hard to get to this point after struggling through the end of Game 2 and through Games 3 and 4. It hasn’t been easy; this game won’t be, either. The numbers heading into this game are strong no matter how you look at it. The Blackhawks are 8-1 at the United Center this postseason; meanwhile, visiting teams are 5-1 in Game 7s this postseason.
Will the Blackhawks complete their comeback tonight and head to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final? Will the Kings pull off more game-seven magic on the road and take their third Game 7 in as many playoff series this spring? We’ll soon have answers to many questions. Until then, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Game 7 between the Kings and Blackhawks.
1. Finish with a flourish. The Blackhawks played Games 5 and 6 like they could have been their last. In both contests, they found late answers where the Kings couldn’t. The Blackhawks have to find that balance between desperation and calm tonight, something that has served them well in getting back into this series.
2. Beware of Mr. Game 7. We don’t know what it is about Justin Williams in Game 7s, but the statistics don’t lie: the Kings right wing lives for these games. Williams has six goals and six assists in six career Game 7s, a tremendous tally indeed. The Blackhawks have to be mindful of the Kings overall; they’ve got a lot of offensive weapons. But in this game, they have to be especially wary of Mr. Williams.
3. Come out strong. The Blackhawks will have the home crowd on their side and they have to let that fuel them early. They also have to keep that crowd actively involved by starting strong and putting the Kings on their heels immediately. If the Blackhawks plant the seed of doubt quickly, they could pull this one out. And speaking of quick…
4. Get to Jonathan Quick. Get in his head by getting in his way. The Kings have done a masterful job of obstructing Corey Crawford’s view throughout this season; the Blackhawks haven’t done much to move them. So two things: move the Kings out of your goaltender’s way and get in their goaltender’s way.
5. Our pick to click is: Patrick Sharp. Yes, we’re going down in a blaze of glory with this selection. We’ve picked him a few times; he still hasn’t clicked. But his 2-on-0 shot just glancing off Quick’s glove and then hitting the crossbar has to be the pinnacle of snake-bit status. It can only get better after something like that, right?