By Brian Willwerth
They are two of the most magical words in sports. There is nothing like it: the winner moves on, the loser heads home for the summer. In the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there are three, juicy winner-take-all games to look forward to.
(7) Buffalo Sabres at (2) Philadelphia Flyers (Tuesday 7:30 p.m.):
This has been one heck of a series. Five of the six games have been decided by one goal. The last two have gone to overtime, with each team winning on the other’s home ice. Speaking of road warriors, the visiting team has won four times, with the Sabres taking two of three in Philadelphia. The bad blood between these two teams got turned up a notch in Game Six, when Philly’s captain Mike Richards shoved Buffalo’s Tim Connolly head first into the boards. Richards was called for a penalty, but Buffalo wanted more: a suspension for the decisive game. The NHL said no.
Will there be revenge on Buffalo’s mind on Tuesday night? Probably not – there is just too much at stake – but it does bear watching. Richards will play. Connolly will not.
(8) Chicago Blackhawks at (1) Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. Tuesday):
How much pressure is on the Presidents’ trophy winners for this one? The Canucks looked to be well on their way to the conference semifinals a little more than a week ago. Then the defending Stanley Cup champions woke up and won three straight: two blowout victories followed by an overtime winner Sunday night in Game Six.
Roberto Luongo was benched in that last game, but entered in the third period after Cory Schneider suffered an injury and gave up the game-winning goal in OT.
Head coach Alain Vigneault says Luongo will get the nod in Game Seven. The ‘Hawks are trying to become the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series.
(5) Tampa Bay Lightning at (4) Pittsburgh Penguins (Wednesday TBA):
Like the Canucks, the Penguins probably felt they had this series in the bag after winning Game Four in double-overtime in Tampa Bay. But the Lightning came back with an eight-goal outburst in Game Five, followed by a victory on home ice Monday night to even the series.
This quarterfinal matchup hasn’t gotten the attention that some of the other series have, but that does not diminish the fact that one of these teams will be all done come Wednesday night.
San Jose beats Los Angles:
Just before 1 a.m. on Tuesday, the L.A. Kings had a chance to send a fourth series to a seventh game. But Joe Thornton (remember him?) made sure that wouldn’t happen. His overtime goal gave the Sharks a 4-3 win, and a 4-2 victory in the series.
Three Game Sevens, two nights, plus, throw in Game Six (and possibly seven) between the Bruins and Canadiens, and you’ve got a hockey fan’s paradise.