By Kyle Shohara
AnaheimDucks.com Photo Gallery
Everything great about the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be on full display tonight, as the Ducks and Blackhawks take center stage one last time in a do-or-die Western Conference Final Game 7 at Honda Center.
It’s a series many don’t want to see come to an end, one that feels like it’s gone at least nine games instead of six. Tonight, the winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final for a chance to win hockey’s ultimate prize against the Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who defeated the New York Rangers in a thrilling seventh game last night.
The Ducks locker room was full of excitement and focus this morning as the players changed out of their equipment following an optional skate. This is why they play the game.
“It’s what every kid dreams of,” said Patrick Maroon. “Like when we were playing in our basements or out in the driveway with our buddies. Everyone is excited. I’m excited. We’re ready to get the ball going tonight.”
Maroon says the tentative nature exhibited during Game 6 isn’t something to be seen again.
“We just need to play Ducks hockey,” Maroon said. “We’ve been doing it all year. Sometimes you’re going to have a bad game, but tonight we just need to come out in the first five to ten minutes and just play hard. Leave it all out there and put it on the line, knowing that, coming into the locker room, you worked your [butt] off.”
“It’s exciting,” said Nate Thompson, whom the Ducks acquired last summer from the Lightning. “I’ve played Game 7 a hundred times outside [as a kid]. This is a great opportunity. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s one game to have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t get any better than that. I’m just going to enjoy the moment and have fun. We’re going to leave it out there.”
Thompson and his former Lightning squad came within a game of advancing to the Cup Final in 2011 if not for a sensational 24-save performance from Tim Thomas and the eventual champion Boston Bruins, who then went on to defeat Ryan Kesler and his Vancouver Canucks in a winner-take-all Game 7.
“Who wants it more,” Kesler said yesterday, when asked what deciding factor will ultimately determine who advances. “You know, I don't think it's about Xs and Os anymore. I think it's about who wants it more and who is ready to out-compete the guy across from him. Whoever that is is going to win the game.”
The Ducks acquired the former Selke Trophy winner for this exact reason – to push this club to the Promised Land. Not only is Kesler producing offensively with 12 points in 15 games (his six goals are one shy of his postseason career-high), but his assignment throughout these playoffs has been neutralizing the opposition’s top line. In this series, he’s had the task of shutting down one of the game’s elite two-way centers, Jonathan Toews.
“It's obviously a challenge,” he said, on the matchup. “You know, he wins some nights, I win some nights. That's the way it goes when you have that caliber of player you're trying to defend. It's been no different than other series. Obviously we have a battle, but it's a piece to the puzzle. There are 19 other guys on both teams that are trying to do the same thing, not just one battle of many.”