Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, series, plays, trends or really four of whatever from the playoffs that have caught his eye.
Two Game 7s to determine the Stanley Cup Final matchup. Are you kidding me, hockey gods? Are you kidding me? This is amazing. This is so amazing.
Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, at Madison Square Garden, must-watch TV on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final, at Honda Center, must-watch TV on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
The winners line up against each other for the right to lift the big trophy.
Like I said, amazing.
Here is a take on each of the four teams as we head into Game 7 heaven:
1. Rangers: Brassard big in elimination games
Derick Brassard has been so good when the New York Rangers are in a must-win situation. He has 13 points in 10 games when the Rangers have faced elimination since last year. The Rangers are 9-1 in those games.
Brassard has never been better at any point in his NHL career than he was in Game 6 at Tampa Bay with his five points. That's one of the best playoff performances we've seen, and clearly one of the best playoff performances in Rangers history from an individual history.
When you look at his point production in elimination games prior to Game 6, I think he was only second to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams since 2011-12. We had the graphic on NHL Network.
That Brassard is in their company, and those guys have won the Stanley Cup five times between them, says a lot. It's really impressive to see just how well he's played in elimination games, and how dominant his line was in Game 6 with Rick Nash and J.T. Miller.
That line had 13 points. Impressive.
They were making plays all over the ice, and they were unpredictable. They didn't continue to do the same thing over and over. They changed the point of the attack. They moved the puck. They moved themselves. And, quite honestly, they were just persistent. They got in on the forecheck, hounded pucks and did a great job of going to the middle of the ice, which was highlighted by Nash. The best thing is they didn't play on the exterior, and they kept throwing multiple looks at the Lightning.
2. Lightning: Play like it's Game 5
The Tampa Bay Lightning have to buckle down and play the type of defensive game they played in Game 5 at the Garden when they return for Game 7 on Friday. The game at Amalie Arena, Game 6, it just got away from them.
They had every intention of playing that way in Game 6. The people that I spoke to who are with the Lightning said they wanted to replicate that game. They were far from it.
They didn't execute the game plan, and the game got away from them. That not only should scare them, but it has them facing elimination. They have to realize that if they want to win they're going to have to check.
Check first. Check second. Attack third. That's the mentality they need to have. They have to replicate Game 5, when they were so good in all areas, Ben Bishop had great rebound control, and it all equaled just a solid road game.
They never got crossed up in having to make a switch in their coverage. They just played a zone, basically five guys as five fingers on one hand working in unison.
A lot of times you'll hear coaches say, "Five guys in the picture," and that's exactly what they had in Game 5. The Lightning were in sync. Their reads in the neutral zone and defensive zone were impeccable in that game. They had a blanket on the Rangers. New York couldn't generate anything even when it had possession.
That's what the Lightning need again. They can do it. They've already shown that.
3. Ducks: Don't water those seeds of doubt
Make no mistake, there has to be some seeds of doubt creeping into the minds of the Anaheim Ducks right now after the way they lost Game 6 at United Center.
The keys for the Ducks now as far as I'm concerned are they have to be physical but smart, and they have to force the Blackhawks to earn their ice. They have done it from a physical standpoint, but they have to be positionally sound when they are physical. They weren't in Game 6.
The Ducks gave up way too much ice through the middle of the rink in Game 6 -- way, way too much. You could see it. The Blackhawks took advantage of it, as they should have.
The Ducks simply didn't pound on the Blackhawks as much in Game 6 as they have in previous games in this series. It's one thing to pound on them on the forecheck, but it's also another thing to force these guys to go around you or through you. Don't just let them go by you.
Hello, these are the super-skilled Chicago Blackhawks and they'll blow by you if you give them a chance. It was, in a football sense, a lot of missed tackles by the Ducks. I'm not sure why that happened. I don't get it. The Ducks are so physically imposing.
If you force the Blackhawks to the outside and force them to beat you with their cycle and they do, hey, tip your hats to them because it means they're re-inventing themselves on the fly, which they have done successfully. But if you give the Blackhawks free ice, look out.
4. Blackhawks: Keith is killer good
Brad Richards told me the other day that Duncan Keith is hands down the best defenseman he's ever played with. Richards has played with a lot of defensemen; he doesn't even question the fact that Keith is the best he's ever played with. That says a lot to me right there.
But it's not like we needed confirmation of how good Keith is. He is everywhere. He's marvelous. He's fantastic. He just does everything well and he's so smart with how he plays the game. He'll run his stick through you too, but he thrives on being positionally sound all the time.
He doesn't have as long a frame as Nicklas Lidstrom, but he's a little more explosive than Lidstrom and has some other Lidstrom-esque traits to his game. I'm not saying that lightly.
So, yeah, it's expected that Keith is going to have a big Game 7, but he's not alone. It's expected, at least I expect, all of Chicago's star players to have big Game 7s. The Blackhawks always play big when the chips are down.
The best thing about the Blackhawks is their stars are never full, ever. Their stomachs are never full. They're never content, ever. One Cup, two Cups, it doesn't matter. Those guys are never satisfied. They always want more, and they're always willing to do what it takes to get more.
These guys are true pros. It's unreal, and it rubs off on that whole group. The hunger goes through the entire team. The guys that come in, they get a taste of it and they want more.