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Three Game 7s cap first round of playoffs

by John Kreiser

For the third season in a row, the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be capped with a trio of Game 7s. For the first time in 11 years, all three will take place on the same night.

The Philadelphia Flyers made sure of that Tuesday when they beat the New York Rangers 5-2 in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Wells Fargo Center, continuing a pattern that has seen the Rangers win the odd-numbered games and the Flyers take the even-numbered ones.

Neither team will get much rest; the teams will determine the series winner Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in the only games being played on back-to-back nights in the opening round of the playoffs.

The other two first-round series to go seven games are in the Western Conference. The Central Division-champion Colorado Avalanche host the Minnesota Wild in a series that has seen the home team win each of the first six games, and the Los Angeles Kings will try to become the fourth NHL team ever to win a series after falling behind 3-0 when they visit the San Jose Sharks.

Here's a quick look at all three Game 7s:

Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN2, CSN-PH, MSG)

It has been 40 years since the Rangers and Flyers went to a Game 7. In that game, the Flyers won 4-3 at the Spectrum to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final; the Rangers didn't win another playoff series for five years.

But this game is at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers are 5-0 all-time in Game 7s, including two victories in 2012, when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers have scored four goals in each of their victories (Games 1, 3 and 5) in this series, but managed a total of five goals in their three losses. With Game 6 out of hand, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault pulled starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after two periods.

The Flyers have split the six Game 7s they've played on the road, most recently in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals when they overcame a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 deficit in the deciding game to beat the Boston Bruins. Philadelphia allowed three power-play goals in the first four periods of the series but have killed off 20 consecutive New York power plays. Wayne Simmonds had a hat trick in Game 6, the first allowed by the Rangers in a playoff game since 2006.

Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, RDS, TSN2, FS-N, ALT)

Home teams are 6-for-6 in this series, though the Wild could have closed it out in five games if they had been a little better at finishing off games.

Colorado won Games 1 and 5 in overtime, getting the OT winner in each after tying the game on a sixth-attacker goal after coach Patrick Roy lifted goaltender Semyon Varlamov for an extra skater. But the strategy didn't work in Game 6; Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:34 remaining and his team trailing 3-2, but the Wild hit the empty net twice in a 5-2 victory that evened the series.

Rookie Nathan MacKinnon has been dynamite at home. He's tied for the scoring lead in the playoffs with Minnesota's Zach Parise at 10 points, but all 10 of MacKinnon's have come at Pepsi Center.

Parise had the go-ahead goal in Game 6, part of a four-point night that forced the third Game 7 in Wild history. Minnesota beat Colorado and the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7s the first two rounds in 2003 to get to the Western Conference Final, the deepest playoff run in franchise history. The loss to the Wild was the most recent Game 7 for Colorado.

The Wild are expected to use Darcy Kuemper in goal; he's played every minute since relieving Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2. Colorado has received yeoman's work from Varlamov, who's seeing an average of 33 shots per game, nearly eight more than the Avalanche are generating.

Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, PRIME, CSN-CA)

The six games in this series can be grouped by threes. In the first three games, the Sharks rolled up 17 goals and won each time; in the next three, the Kings controlled play and outscored San Jose 13-4, including a series-tying 4-1 victory in Game 6.

The Kings are trying to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 2010 Flyers by winning a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games. They've had good success in Game 7s against teams from Northern California, beating the Oakland Seals 5-3 on the road to win their quarterfinal series in 1969 and outlasting the Sharks 2-1 in L.A. to win their Western Conference Semifinals series last season.

But if there's one team that's not likely to panic about going from 3-0 to 3-3 in a series, it's the Sharks. San Jose followed the same route three years ago in their conference semifinals series, winning the first three games against the Detroit Red Wings, losing the next three but winning Game 7 at home.

San Jose is 5-3 all-time in Game 7 and has won the only two it has played at home, beating Detroit in 2011 and the Calgary Flames in 2008. Antti Niemi started in goal for the Sharks in the 2011 game; the big question is whether he'll get the call this time. Niemi was pulled in Games 4 and 5 and watched rookie Alex Stalock play Game 6. Coach Todd McLellan said Tuesday he told each of his goalies to be ready to play. Jonathan Quick, who has allowed four goals in L.A.'s three wins, will start for the Kings.

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