And so it comes down to this: one night, one game, all the marbles.
The only predictable element is that either the Ottawa Senators or the New York Rangers will see a recent tendency reversed on Thursday – but not both.
For this will be a contest between two teams that haven’t been able to close the deal on their own rinks this month, and have done their damage on the road.
If the Rangers feel good about their chances at home in the deciding game of their tougher than expected series with eighth-seeded Ottawa – and they do – the Senators are also relaxed and hopeful heading into a building where they’ve won two of three playoff games in the past 14 days, and 13 of 16 since the 2004 lockout.
“So far, home advantage hasn’t really played out that well for anybody, but hopefully, hopefully our crowd can be the difference and help us push our game here and get some confidence right away,” Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ goalie and Vézina Trophy finalist, told reporters after his team’s practice in suburban New York. “There’s no better feeling than to win at home, so we’re going to do whatever we can here to win this game.”
The Rangers regained a foothold in the series on Monday in Ottawa, where they too have won two of three. Now they will need to win back-to-back playoff games for the first time in three years.
The Senators also face a challenge, having lost all four times when a series has gone the distance, their last coming in 2004 at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“There’s no better time than [Thursday]” Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said of snapping the string.
“Every year is different, every group is different,” Alfredsson added after the Sens’ practice in Ottawa. “There’s so many stats you can pay attention to, but I’ve said this group has been resilient all year long and we’re looking for one more effort here from everybody and if we get that, we’ll keep playing,”
Those Senators fans looking for positive omens will be cheered by this: Ottawa has played three previous playoff games on April 26 and won them all. In the last three first-vs.-eighth matchups involving a Canadian team, the Canadian team has won.
Conversely, Rangers fans will note their team is 3-0 in game sevens on home ice, and that the last time they faced a seventh game at home as the top seed in the conference, they won the Stanley Cup.
There are stats for everything, of course, and they mean exactly jack once the puck drops.
Both teams had players nursing sore bodies on Thursday; Rangers captain Ryan Callahan took the day off from practice, as did Ottawa’s Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner.
It’s never a bad thing to conserve one’s energies for when it matters, and all signs point to a close, and possibly ornery, contest.
Had Ottawa not suffered a loss of composure and discipline late in the second period, Game 6 would doubtless have been an even tighter contest than the 3-2 New York win that it was.
Both goaltenders, Lundqvist for the home side and Craig Anderson for the visitors, have been strong with gusts to unbeatable in the series. But this game will come down to whose front-line offensive stars can fight through the traffic.
The last time the two teams met, New York’s Brad Richards and Derek Stepan had the upper hand offensively. The game before that, Ottawa’s Jason Spezza was the offensive catalyst.
Here’s another tidbit for the armchair prognosticators: The Rangers have scored only one even-strength goal on Anderson in the last nine periods (six of their eight goals since Game 1 have come on the power play).
The Senators have five even-strength goals in the past three games, and in a win-or-go-home environment where the officiating is certain to be more permissive, that could be a plus.
As Senators coach Paul MacLean, who hasn’t been afraid to tinker with his lineup and try untested rookies in crucial situations, told The Globe and Mail recently: “You don’t defend your way to the Stanley Cup, you score your way to the Stanley Cup.”
There can be little doubt the underdog Senators will be looking to live up to that adage.
With a report from The Canadian Press
GAME 7: BY THE NUMBERS
Game 7 record for home team, all rounds: 85-55 (.607)
Game 7 record for home team, first round: 31-22 (.585)
Series going to Game 7 since 1987: 99 of 368 (26.9 per cent)
Series going to Game 7 since 2004-05 lockout: 27 of 98 (27.6 per cent)
Team with most Game 7 wins since 1987: Boston Bruins (8)
Team with most Game 7 losses since 1987: New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals (7)
Average number of Game 7s a year: 4
When a team has won Games 2, 4, 5 of series (such as Ottawa Senators): 10-6 (.625)
When a team has won Games 2, 3, 5 of series (such as Florida Panthers): 10-4 (.714)
Game 7 record since 1987 for teams in action ... Florida Panthers: 1-0, New Jersey Devils 6-7, New York Rangers: 3-1, Ottawa Senators 0-4