The Eastern Conference Finals has reached a seventh game. Despite what many thought would be a quick Penguin victory, thus has not been the case.
The winner will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. They can win tonight and here’s why:
Leave It To Murray
Matt Murray has been really good. From the time he took the starting job last year all the way through until now, Murray has done a sensational job at keeping teams at bay. Tonight, he has a chance to win his second game seven in as many years and to play for his second Stanley Cup after winning it last season.
Despite the widely unpopular decision to start Murray over Marc-Andre Fleury in game four after Fleury had guided them to that point, Murray has posted a 2-1 record with a .950 save percentage and a 1.33 goals against average. He shutout the Senators in game five.
Murray is celebrating his 23rd birthday today. We all saw how Senators goalie Craig Anderson got treated on his birthday in game five. You’d hope for a bit better of a result from Murray tonight.
Don’t Shake The Rust
You’re probably wondering what rust could I possibly be talking about. I’m talking about Bryan Rust.
For some reason, Rust has a knack for scoring in elimination games, namely game seven, as he did twice in the same scenario last season.
The Penguins defeated Tampa Bay in game seven of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, 2-1. Rust had both goals in front of the (then) CONSOL Energy Center crowd to get them fired up.
He was paired with Nick Bonino and Carter Rowney the past two games and has scored the series clinching goal in 3 of the last 4 playoff series for the Penguins.
If there is anyone coach in the NHL that you’d be this confident about taking into a game seven outside of Mike Sullivan, I’d love to hear the answer.
Sullivan has made decisions that people here in Pittsburgh have doubted before. Where are they now?
Sullivan has never lost a playoff series as the Penguins head coach. He’s 6-0 and while that is a small sample size, you must be reminded of the Stanley Cup he won last year and his whisking away of the two teams in the Metropolitan Division that gave them the most trouble this season.
His “just play” mentality that has become synonymous with the Penguins and his exuding confidence that has radiated into the team makes the Penguins the favorites to win at home this evening.
– The Penguins will of course be tested and, no matter the team, any game is a 50/50 proposition from the time of the puck drop until the final horn blows to send one of these teams to the Finals. It won’t be easy and here is why:
Home Ice Isn’t Always Kind
Usually, there’s no place like home. Unfortunately, the Penguins maybe like the road better.
They’re very good on the road in game seven. Home? Not so much.
They’re 3-7 at home in game seven’s in franchise history. Now, that’s history. I personally don’t much much attention to these numbers because they came with much different team’s. If you want more hope, game seven vs. Tampa Bay in last year’s ECF was at home…the Penguins won.
What Is The Health Of Those Returning?
Playing a playoff game without someone like Patric Hornqvist can be crippling to any line up. The Penguins have fortunately had depth to replace him. So is sitting a healthy player for a still injured player, who’s game is bound to get him hurt again, a smart idea?
Hornqvist hates more than anything to be watching from the box and not pestering the goalie and throwing his body around. He took the skate this morning but how healthy is he? Many reports said he wouldn’t even return this season.
Justin Schultz, on the other hand, didn’t take the skate and is a game-time decision for tonight’s game. He had seemingly been ready to return but, again, is it a good idea? Only time can tell. The playoffs make many players force themselves back into the lineup prematurely. Keep an eye on this situation.
Anderson Can Steal The Show
Anderson will be the goalie of choice for Ottawa after a 45 save performance in game six. He has played solidly in this series outside of the game five meltdown. He can steal this series.
He’s not widely regarded as an all-world goaltender. But in the grand scheme of things, he’s one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. He has proven that he can shut down one of the league’s more elite scoring team’s and keep them from beating him too often.
Anderson has an 11-7 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. He’s posted some good numbers that would win a few teams some Cups. He’s aging and this could be his final chance to even potentially make the Finals. Don’t expect him to roll over and let the Penguins make him surrender.
As the Penguins embark upon game seven tonight, keep these in mind. They’re valid reasons for both team’s to have a shot to win. The Senators are the underdog and will have much less pressure to get to the Finals. Another factor that could play into their hands. One thing is clear: both teams will lay it all on the line tonight.