NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" usually includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League. However, with Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals coming up in New York on Saturday and the Western Conference Finals now set between two of the teams he used to play for, Roenick offered some of his thoughts on both.
A Game 7 in New York between the Capitals and Rangers -- no surprise at all. A Western Conference Finals that is starting in Phoenix -- big surprise.
I don't think anybody is surprised they're going to a Game 7 for a couple of reasons.
For one, I've been so impressed with the way the Washington Capitals
have been able to flip the switch and go out there and play flawless hockey.
It's amazing what a hot goaltender will do for a team's confidence, for its psyche, for its energy. Braden Holtby
has an attitude that runs right through the whole team. The Caps feel confident they can win every game. They feel confident their goaltender is going to stop the puck if there is a breakdown.
I don't think that is something they had all year. I don't think Tomas Vokoun
lived up to that potential and neither did Michal Neuvirth
Good for Braden Holtby
. He is so much fun to watch.
On the flip side: The Rangers during the regular season, their big problem was their goal-scoring ability, which is why there was so much talk about them acquiring Rick Nash
at the trade deadline. Well, they barely slipped by Ottawa and now they're in another Game 7 with Washington mainly because their goal scoring seems very limited.
The Rangers are a very good, sound defensive team. Their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist
, is off the charts. And it's going to be up to Lundqvist again to backstop a team in Game 7 that probably won't score more than two goals.
That's a very heavy burden and pressure-packed situation for Lundqvist to be in -- but if you're going to have that situation I can't think of a better guy to have in net than Lundqvist because he's been doing it all year.
We'll see how it all works out, but it's going to be an exciting game. It has been the most fun series to watch in the second round. L.A. made it look easy, Phoenix made it look easy, the Devils looked great -- but here we have some real, true drama with Washington and the Rangers unfolding in a Game 7.
This is what the National Hockey League needs. This is what NBC needs. North America will get treated to a very important rivalry in a very important game.
As for a prediction, since the game is in Madison Square Garden I think the Rangers might sneak this thing out in overtime.
It's the battle of the sun states. I played in both markets, but I didn't have a very good experience in L.A. and that was mostly my own fault.
But to think that Phoenix is going to host Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals -- I guess I'm not surprised that they're there, but hosting it? The fact that they finished No. 3 and finished off the season as strong as they did to secure that ever-so important home-ice advantage for this situation, that's huge for them.
It's a great story. In fact, there are a lot of great storylines in the NHL these days. You have Holtby emerging as a No. 1 goalie, the Capitals playing as well as they have. You have Jonathan Quick
securing himself as a superstar. You have Mike Smith
, who is probably the only star now in Phoenix.
But both of these teams in the Western Conference deserve it. They've been wallowing in mediocrity for a long time, one round and out, and sometimes not any rounds. Phoenix has gone through ownership issues, attendance issues, but the Coyotes just continue to put a good, quality hockey team on the ice that battles, and it is paying off.
It's really nice to see the way Don Maloney
and Dave Tippett
have created something exciting to get behind.
But if everyone was talking about how Los Angeles and St. Louis would be the lowest-scoring series of all time -- well, I think this one between the Kings and Coyotes definitely could be.
I could be wrong, though. There could be a surprise or two coming. You never know.