Hello, nervous hockey fans. Here are some quick thoughts before we enter the roller coaster of love, hate and vomit-inducing tension that is Game 7.
Here are five things the Penguins would be wise to accomplish if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
= No Flower Screw-ups
Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t have to play a perfect game tonight and probably won’t. That would be a lot to ask. But Fleury must make sure to avoid doing something that will destroy his team’s confidence.
In other words, if Fleury knocks a puck into his own net, or gets caught behind his net while the Rangers are scoring – you know, Fleury kind of things to do during past postseasons – things could turn bad for the Penguins in a hurry. Remember the goal he allowed early in Game 7 against Montreal? It can’t happen tonight. It just can’t. And I don’t think it will. I buy into the belief that this is a new Fleury. But he’s got to prove it tonight.
= Power play life
Lots of talk in this series about the Rangers dismal power play, right? Well, the team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin shouldn’t be 1-for-19 in this series. In fact, the frequent postseason mishaps with the Penguins’ special teams are pretty embarrassing and have become a factor again in this series. The Penguins aren’t a great even strength team. They need special teams to be their friend. Tonight is a pretty good time for that to be the case.
= Crowd support
The crowds at Consol Energy Center this postseason have been OK. Nothing special, though. This is primarily an economic issue. Tickets for the playoffs are pretty ridiculous. Many hard core fans simply can’t afford a ticket, and those seats are being replaced by wealthy people who view hockey games as events as opposed to serious business. That’s not a good thing.
I’m a big, big believe that a crowd can change the course of a sporting event. I’ve seen it happen many times. It’s a real thing. If you’re going to the game tonight, you can make a difference. Players can sense nervousness, and that might not be a good thing. They can be inspired by a great crowd, too.
Let’s not act like luck doesn’t play a role in hockey games, especially in Game 7s. It most certainly does. The Penguins could use a break from the hockey gods tonight.
= The Kid
Let’s not over-think this. In the end, when this series is through, it will largely be remembered because of Sidney Crosby’s performance. He hasn’t been himself. Everyone knows this.
But in tonight, he has an opportunity. Many of his recent troubles will be forgotten with a virtuoso performance tonight against the Rangers.
Will Crosby rise up tonight while under enormous pressure?
Prediction: Anyone who claims to know how this game will go is lying. No one can possibly know. It’s been a messed up series in many ways. But I’ll go against the grain and pick the Penguins, which puts me in the minority. I just think they’re a better team, I think they’re due to win a Game 7 at home, and I loved the edge I sensed from a few players in the locker room. There were some salty people in there this morning. They’re angry that the city has seemingly stopped believing in them. They aren’t viewing this as an inevitable setback, but rather, as a final opportunity to get things right in the playoffs as a group. Should be fascinating. I haven’t a clue what to expect, but I think Crosby does rise up tonight. One way or the other, we’ll remember this one for a long time.
Final score: Penguins 4, Rangers 2