Game Seven between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks will commence tonight at the Honda Center, with one team advancing to the second round. The other heads home.
It’s not only the first Game Seven in Predators’ franchise history, it’s also the first for many on the roster, an experience that is often dreamed about in a driveway or a pond. Tonight, it becomes reality.
“These are the moments in your hockey career you remember and always look forward to and what you’re known for,” center Ryan Johansen said of his first Game Seven. “There are a lot of great opportunities for a lot of guys in this room, myself included, to really showcase ourselves, and what we can do as a team. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Rookie defenseman Anthony Bitetto looked to his defensive partner, Barret Jackman, after Game Six to get a feel for what is to come tonight. The answer only helped to add to the anticipation and excitement.
“Right after that game, I looked at him and said, ‘What’s Game Seven like?’ and he said, ‘It’s going to be the fastest game, the most physical game you’re ever going to be a part of,’” Bitetto said. “It’s the biggest game of our season right now, and to hear that from a guy that I look up to was pretty special. It was a cool little moment, and it’s going to be a lot of fun tonight. Hopefully the game goes in our favor.”
Bitetto and the Preds already experienced an elimination situation in these playoffs when they defeated the Ducks in Game Six to force tonight’s contest. Rookies and veterans alike believe that situation will only help when the puck drops this evening.
“For most of our young guys, me included, I guess you want to have experience in an elimination Game Six,” Bitetto said. “You have to go out there and play the game we’ve played all year. If we do what we do, we’ll sit in a good spot.”
“I think for the young guys, it helps; they’ve had a chance to play in one of those games,” center Mike Ribeiro, who has played in three Game Sevens, said. “It’s no different this time. We feel good. We like how we’ve been playing lately, and playing in this building too. When it comes to Game Seven, I don’t think there’s really much of an advantage to the [home team]. In the first 10 minutes, you really need to be ultra-focused on what you’re doing, and from there, I think it’s just hockey.”
In a few hours’ time, the victor will be realized. As for who will play the role of hero, everybody wants that chance, especially in Game Seven. It will be a dream no more, but rather, a reality.
“You always want to be the guy making the big play for your team, and all those little plays might lead up to a big play like that at a crucial point in the game tonight,” Johansen said. “Every one of us in here is looking forward to an opportunity to be the hero. Someone will be tonight and somebody’s going to be a huge part of this game. If every one of us is on the same page and playing within our structure and sticking to our game plan, at some point throughout this game, there are going to be guys making some big plays for us.”