Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five reasons why tonight's game seven will definitely be won by the Senators (or Penguins)

The Ottawa Senators came through on Tuesday night, holding on for a 2–1 win to stave off elimination and send the Eastern Conference Final back to Pittsburgh. And so, for the third time in this year’s playoffs, fans will be treated to a winner-take-all seventh game.

Who’ll win? We have no idea. In today’s parity-stricken NHL, anyone who tells you that they know who’ll come out on top in a single game is full of it. We’re pretty close to coin-flip territory here, and anything could happen tonight.

But of course, that doesn’t really cut it when it comes to analysis. The rules of sports writing say we’re supposed to dress it all up in absolutes. So let’s break out a gimmick that worked well for last round’s Pittsburgh/Washington showdown, and come up with five reasons why the Penguins are definitely going to win this thing. And then, five more for the Senators.

The Penguins will win because: They’ve been here before

The Penguins most recent Game 7 win came two weeks ago. That was when they went into Washington, shrugged off two straight losses, and drove a stake through the heart of the Capitals franchise. They also beat the Lighting last year in this exact situation: Game 7 on home ice in the Conference Final. And some of these players were around in 2009, when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in a seventh-game classic with the Red Wings.

By comparison, the Senators most recent Game 7 win came... never. They've literally never had one in the history of the franchise. That seems like it should be impossible given how often Ottawa has been in the playoffs over the years, but here we are. And some of those losses have come in truly heart-breaking fashion.

Granted, most of that is ancient history for today's Senators roster; their last Game 7 came back in 2012. But the point remains: The Penguins roster is packed with guys who've been here before and know what it takes to win a do-or-die game. Most of the Senators have never played in a Game 7 at all, and a few of the ones who have won't want to remember how it turned out.

If you believe that big-game experience matters, this one is as easy a call as they come.

The Senators will win because: They're just about the perfect Game 7 road team

We always hear teams talk about how you play all season long to earn home ice in a Game 7. And sure, home teams have historically had an edge in a seventh-game situation. That's good news for the Penguins.

But not all road teams are created equal, and the Senators are just about the ideal team to go into an opponent's building and shut down the party. Much has been made about whether Guy Boucher's squad is boring, but that misses the point. In today's NHL, boring wins. And it's just about the perfect style for a big road game.

Maybe the Penguins come out flying and put this one away early. But it's not hard to picture a game where goals are tough to come by, and we're drifting into the second period or beyond still sitting at 0–0 while the crowd gets quiet and everyone starts muttering about how it feels like we're already in overtime. The Senators would be perfectly happy to play that sort of game. It's become Boucher's specialty.

For what it's worth, the Senators haven't won a playoff series on home ice since the opening round in 2007. In the decade since, all five of their series wins have come on the road, including both of this year's. They've been here before. They know what it takes to close out a team in their opponent's building. And if they need to, they're perfectly willing to be boring to do it.

The Penguins will win because: They've been the better team

It's the playoffs, so you could argue that wins are all that matter and by that measure these two teams have been equal.

But it's 2017, and we're smarter than that. We know that the scoreboard doesn't tell us everything, and by just about every other metric, the Penguins have been the best team in this series. They're outshooting the Senators by over five shots a game. They're dominating possession. Their special teams have been far better. And even if you want to be old-school and only point at the scoreboard, they're winning there, too, outscoring the Senators by a half-goal a game over the course of the series.

With the exception of the first period of Game 3, which featured several fluky goals, it's hard to point to any sustained stretch in this series in which the Senators have clearly been better. Meanwhile, in the last two games, Pittsburgh won a 7–0 blowout and followed that up with a dominant 46-shot performance on Tuesday.

Being the better team doesn't guarantee anything in today's NHL. But the Penguins are playing well enough to win, and they know it.

The Senators will win because: They have the best player

This sounds crazy. The Penguins have Sidney Crosby, the consensus top player in the world. They have the best player in every series they play, and will right up until they face Connor McDavid and the Oilers in the Stanley Cup final a few years down the road.

But this isn't about the best player in the big picture. It's about right now. And in the 2017 playoffs, Erik Karlsson has been better than Crosby and everyone else. If he can be that player tonight, the Penguins aren't likely to have an answer for him.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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