It’s a winner-take-all scenario to decide the Western Conference.
The Chicago Blackhawks host the L.A. Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday, after the Blackhawks pushed the series to its ultimate conclusion with a win in Game 6 on Friday. It’s also the ultimate conclusion to a very entertaining series that has seen Chicago come back from a three-games-to-one deficit.
“I’m excited we’re home. I’m really excited we’re playing Game 7. It’s a good opportunity,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told reporters. “We got momentum, so let’s go. It’s one game, but there’s a lot at stake. I’m sure the guys are going to have a lot of fun with it.”
Regardless of which team has momentum or which doesn’t, it’s still a battle between two teams that have clearly set the standard in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks could earn their third Stanley Cup Final berth in the last five years. The Kings went to the final and won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
The Blackhawks and Kings have combined to win three of the last four Stanley Cup championships. The New York Rangers, champs in the Eastern Conference, await the winner.
“I think this series deserves a Game 7,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson told the Chicago Tribune. “I think that the crowd deserves it too. I think it’s going to be a great finish to a great series. Hopefully we’ll be the winner.”
Of course, the Kings will likely have something to say about that.
Brian Campbell doesn’t score as many points as he used to, but he came up with a huge goal against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.
With the game tied, 1-1, in overtime, Campbell skated into the slot and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect wrister to end the game.
It was also a pretty nice passing play between Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Campbell.
Dylan Larkin opened the scoring in the second period before Reilly Smith leveled the score with just over five minutes remaining.
The Wings have blown a lead in three straight games.
Detroit was up 2-0 and 3-2 in their last game, against Edmonton, before they finally closed the game out with an overtime goal by Niklas Kronwall.
They weren’t so fortunate against the Bruins on Wednesday, as they lost 3-2 in OT after leading 2-1 with under two minutes remaining in regulation.
This was the first meeting of the season between Detroit and Florida, but they’ll see each other three times between Feb. 4 and Mar. 19.
You can’t blame Mike Babcock for siding with the relatively unknown when the other option is Jonathan Bernier, a goalie who’s 0-8-1 so far in 2015-16.
With that in mind, meet Garret Sparks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected starter for Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Sparks was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) in 2011, a guy who was off to a great start in the AHL. That much wasn’t lost on Babcock.
Let’s face it, though; this is as much about the Leafs’ other two goalies as it is about Sparks (whose name inspired a very obscure reference in this post’s headline).
In Bernier’s case, there’s an “enough’s enough” feel:
Meanwhile, James Reimer‘s not quite healthy enough to play yet, so the window of opportunity is open for Sparks … a little bit.
Sparks will get a chance to make an impression, even if it’s just a small one.
So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.
The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.
No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.
He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.
There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.
So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.
Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.
(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)