Any Stanley Cup Playoff series that goes the distance is an intense and exhausting experience for both players and fans. One Game 7 is usually enough, but we get to enjoy three of them Wednesday night, when the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers, the Minnesota Wild visit the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings meet the San Jose Sharks.
Let's start by giving Minnesota and Colorado their due. Each franchise has made major strides. I like the way Minnesota handled the adversity of losing Game 5 in Denver. The Wild came back with the right mindset and attitude. Not only were they playing a speed game, but they also played a very physical game. Most importantly, it was a disciplined brand of physicality they brought in Game 6.
Zach Parise had an amazing game with a four-point night. That's what makes him one of the true stars of the NHL. At the same time, the Avalanche got a nice boost from having Matt Duchene back. Now we're going to see a potentially great Game 7 at Pepsi Center. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be fast and intense.
I think Gabriel Landeskog is going to have a huge Game7 for Colorado. If I'm picking anyone to come up big for Minnesota, it's got to be Zach. These are the kinds of games in which leaders lead their team. This is where you can really see the pride of an athlete, and we'll definitely see it with Parise, who saw the upstart 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon starring in this series.
So what did he do about it? Parise elevated his game with a four-point night that tied him with MacKinnon for the playoff scoring lead. That's impressive to see. Your team needs a win and is facing elimination, and he goes out and has a dominant game.
I've been saying right from the beginning that if San Jose wants to win the Stanley Cup, going through L.A. is the best thing for them. If they beat L.A., they will have beaten a championship-caliber team, as well as a big rival, and that would do wonders for their confidence. They got off to the right start. They were playing a great brand of hockey as they took a 3-0 series lead, and then the wheels fell off. They've got to use those great fans at SAP Center to their advantage. Use their talent and offensive depth, and their stars have to star. It's that simple, they must deliver.
People shouldn't be too surprised that Los Angeles has forced a Game 7 after being down 3-0. They have two guys in their room in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter who were with the Flyers when they did it in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins. Those are two guys who have had excellent NHL careers, although Richards tailed off this year. That can all be forgotten if the Kings are able to come back and win Game 7.
The Kings have come back in this series by getting back to their defensive game. You don't win the William Jennings Trophy and then suddenly forget how to play defense. That defensive game has been helping them, but you're also seeing what looks like a healthier Drew Doughty, and that makes a huge difference. Their stars have been playing well, and Marian Gaborik has been excellent. Jonathan Quick also looks like himself now that his defense has picked it up and isn't leaving him out to dry anymore.
He's often forgotten, but one guy who always delivers is Justin Williams. He is so underrated and has more skill than you think. I don't know why people overlook him, because all he has done is win the Cup twice, once with L.A. and once with the Carolina Hurricanes. When the playoffs come around, some players don't want the responsibility of having the puck on their tape. That's not the case with Williams. He thrives on making a play in a big game. He has stepped up, as expected.
One thing is for certain: We're going to get to enjoy another great all-California series after Game 7. The winner will play the Anaheim Ducks in the second round; that is going to be an amazing series. Once again, each of these California teams is a Stanley Cup contender. The Ducks won it in 2007, the Kings won it in 2012 and the Sharks seem to contend every year. Whoever matches up against Anaheim in the next round, I can't see that series going fewer than six games. It makes for a lot of 3 a.m. ET nights in the TV studio, but it's great for hockey fans.
The interesting thing with Rangers vs. Flyers is I expected that to be one of the most entertaining series, and it hasn't been. The opening-round series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins was far more entertaining. Speaking of which, congrats to Columbus and its organization and fans; they have a lot to look forward to the next few seasons. This type of season should catapult them in their progression going forward. Ryan Johansen emerged as a star, and Sergei Bobrovsky had no drop-off this season after winning the 2013 Vezina Trophy.
But I was expecting more from the Flyers and the Rangers, especially from Claude Giroux. He has improved as the series has gone on, but he's a premier player in the League. He had a big Game 6 in Philly, and he'll need to do it again to lead the Flyers to the next round.
Any disappointment from earlier in the series can be forgotten with an epic Game 7.