Tonight decides it all. Someone's moving on and someone's moving home. There will be handshakes. There will be goals. There will be battles. There will be blood. There will be a winner. One phrase describes it all: Death or Glory.
This is Game 7.
The New Jersey Devils got ran out of Carolina to the tune of 4-0 in Game 6. Yet, no team in this series has been able to take any momentum and turn it into a consecutive win. The Devils and Canes have come close twice, yet they have traded wins. There will be no more trading tonight, as it is the final game between these two teams this season. Again, this is Game 7.
We have plenty of reason to be worried. Should the Devils lose, I think it's going to overshadow all the Devils have done with the disappointment and bitterness that comes from getting bounced in the first round. The season is truly at stake. TThe keys to tonight's game are pretty apparent, as Blez summed up most of them already. The Devils have to play intense but smart hockey; and the best Devils (Elias, Parise, Zajac, Martin) need to step it up in a big way. Oh, and do it all before the Canes have a chance to do it themselves. I added that puck possession is also crucial, as the Devils have been able to be the better team when they own the puck as well as the battles for the puck. After Game 6, it doesn't look so good. Fortunately, this is Game 7.
Also, the Devils appear to be more confident than worried. I think it is due to the fact that so many of the core players have played in a Game 7 in the past. In fact, as Gulitti noted yesterday, 13 Devils have been in at least one Game 7 before. Only Parise, Zajac, Oduya, Zubrus, Clarkson, and Clemmensen are new to this and they will have the others to help them get through it Just as importantly as this fact, Brent Sutter told Gulitti yesterday why he thinks his team will win:
"No. 1 is I think you go into every game believing you're going to win. You've got to have a strong feel for the pulse of your team. We've responded to adversity all year in a very good way and there's no reason tomorrow night that we're not going to respond the right way again. At the end of the night, is it going to be enough? I don't know. But I certainly think that we'll play a good game. And I'm sure their coaching staff is thinking the same thing about their team. I'm sure they're feeling the same way. They believe they can win. You always feel good about the circumstance.
"If someone had said at the start of the series that we're playing the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 in your own building and they've been the hottest team in the league in the last six weeks of the season and everything that's happened in the series, I think we would take it."
Yes, Paul Maurice probably feels the same way. Yet, the Canes just put out an absolutely great, leave-it-all-on-the-ice game on Sunday. Can they do it again? On the road? Against a team who will be going into this game in the same situation and with every reason to prove a point that they will not end this series without a fight? I'm sure Bubba and Cory and the Canes fans at Canes Country think the answer is yes. I'm sure they are hoping the Canes can handle a charged up Devils squad. Because if there's any time for the Devils to play with a raging fire burning inside themselves, then Game 7 after a bad Game 6 loss should definitely be it! After all, this is Game 7!
And if the Devils don't come out strong - and stay strong - for this one, well, I don't know what to tell you - but it surely won't be pretty. It's one thing to start poorly, but allowing the Canes to dig the grave first is simply not an option. And if they start off well, then the Devils must make the comeback and complete it. There is no room for dawdling and sulking. This is Game 7.
Anyway, what to expect out of the game other than two teams giving it all? Well, expect Martin Brodeur and Cam Ward continue being great. They have both been fantastic for their respective teams. I'd also expect that the team that can best expose the other team's defense to get the higher quality scoring chances and rushes up ice to be the victors tonight. The Devils defense absolutely, positively has to do a better job against Carolina - it's one thing to allow 40+ shots that are mostly easy for Brodeur, but it's another to have Carolina come close and have most of those be off rebounds, off killer cross-ice passes, and off odd-man rushes. The defense cannot afford to be bent like they were in Games 4 and 6. They need to step up along with all the other keys Blez discussed, this is Game 7.
At the end of the day, though, how it's done doesn't matter as much as the what the result will be. This is Game 7. The past 6 games aren't so important anymore. Gulitti did point out the Devils are 3-1 lifetime in Game 7s at home, but this right now it's the only one that matters. My fellow Devil fans, either at the Rock or in another state or in another country, support your team. If not now, then when? Because who wins tonight continues to fight on - this is Game 7.