Not many anticipated a Game 7 to be required to decide this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the first seed New York Rangers and eighth seed Ottawa Senators, but here we are, just several hours away from what promises to be a thrilling and memorable night at Madison Square Garden. Neither team was able to collect a commanding lead in the series at any point, as it’s been a closely-fought grind ever since the puck dropped on Game 1 exactly two weeks ago. Therefore, maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that this match-up went the full length after all. And with how this series has been played by each side, both clubs certainly deserve to be in the position they are entering tonight’s contest.
The swaying of emotions and momentum has been what’s made this series so appealing from the early beginning. Whether it was Matt Carkner’s pounding on Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin’s controversial hit to the head of Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Lundqvist unbelievable performance in Game 3, or even Jason Spezza’s goal being allowed late in Game 6, there’s been some sort of major storyline coming out of this series each night the two teams have met. The emotions to this point, however, will not even begin to compare to what will go down tonight at MSG.
This is where the New York Rangers hold an advantage over the opponent, as that top spot they worked so hard to earn during the regular season finally comes in handy with home ice tonight. Just think of how heavy the odds would be against New York if they were headed to Scotiabank Place for tonight’s Game 7 – it would be ridiculous. But now, instead, they will be coming home to a fan base that has not hosted a Game 7 since 1994, the last year they won the Stanley Cup. As a member of this Ranger squad, there’s no other place you’d rather be than the World’s Most Famous Arena in a series-deciding game, and that works the complete opposite way for the opposition.
That being said, having home ice advantage will now win this game for the Rangers on its own. There are still 60 minutes of hockey to be played and 60 minutes of hockey in which the Blueshirts must be at the top of their game at all times. The Senators will not roll over just because the odds are against them. Hell, if they felt that way this series would’ve been over three games ago. Ottawa worked hard to get here and they aren’t about to give up on what’s been an impressive season for them considering the expectations going in. This will be no breeze of a game for the Rangers, as they will need to earn what they achieve.
An effort like what we saw in the second and third periods in Game 6 should absolutely get New York to the semifinals where they will face the Washington Capitals. Their offensive forecheck mixed with defensive responsibility in that game were stellar to say the least, and then of course Henrik Lundqvist was marvelous in net to bail his teammates out when need be. When playing at that level, the Rangers are by far the better of the two teams, no question.
In order to play at that level, though, they need everyone contributing. Sure, players like Brad Richards and Ryan McDonagh stepped up as the top guys in Monday’s win, but the Rangers also received key contributions from secondary players such as Chris Kredier, Derek Stepan and even Brandon Prust. That sort of ‘spread out’ system of scoring is a proven success in the postseason, and can make any team, whether they finished first or eighth, very dangerous.
What it will all come down to tonight is the management of emotions. As previously mentioned, MSG will be in rare form when hosting its first Game 7 since 1994 this evening. The noise level in there will be deafening, so it is vital that the Rangers do not let that electricity get the best of them. Obviously they will want to feed off of the crowd, but they also must remain focused on the task at hand, because as we’ve seen, the Sens can and will catch their opponents taking their foot off the gas pedal.
The Rangers will roll with the same lineup they did in Game 6, which means Ryan Callahan (finger) is good to go while Brian Boyle (concussion) will be out.
New York Rangers Lineup