By Jack Ryan
For the first time since 2000, hockey bettors will be treated to a pair of Game 7s in the conference finals, with four teams just one win away from playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the NHL’s championship round.
First up tonight is Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning followed by the Western Conference final pitting the Chicago Blackhawks against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
The Rangers are a 130-150 pick in the money line while the Ducks are 115-135.
The Rangers and Ducks both finished with the most points in their respective conferences during the regular season, meaning each will have home ice in the biggest game.
The big question is, will home ice really be an advantage for New York tonight and Anaheim on Saturday?
Fifteen years ago, when the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars became the last two winners of a Game 7 in the conference finals during the same season, they both won in front of their home fans. But just last year, the Blackhawks could not come through at home in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup over the Rangers.
Granted, Chicago lost Game 7 versus LA 5-4 in overtime on a deflected shot and had been down 3-1 in the series before rallying to win Games 5 and 6. However, the pressure of winning a Game 7 clearly falls on the home team, which is often expected to earn the victory as the favorite between the two teams. Sometimes the loser simply runs out of gas, and that very well could have been the case last year with the Blackhawks. Expending energy to come back in a playoff series can take its toll, especially for a team like New York that was down 3-1 to the Washington Capitals in the previous round and has to win two straight against Tampa Bay to earn another shot at the Cup.
The Rangers do seemingly have a strong edge between the pipes though with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (above) winning six consecutive Game 7s, the latest coming against Washington 2-1 in OT back on May 13. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop just blanked New York 2-0 in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden as well and won his only career Game 7 by the same score against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round this year.
Then there are the Ducks, who have lost their last two Game 7s at home to the Kings and Red Wings to end their past two seasons. Anaheim will be playing with its third different goalie this time around in Frederik Andersen, who has surrendered 13 goals combined in the last three games after giving up five total in the first three. Either Andersen will turn things around for the Ducks, or Chicago will earn the opportunity to play for its third Cup in six years and second in three with Corey Crawford in net.