One series appeared destined to go the distance. One appeared destined for a sweep. The third took its winding, dramatic time to get here.
In the end, Game 7 is where they all will be decided.
The NHL will enjoy a near-dream scenario when six teams spanning all four time zones, four of the six largest television markets and two traditional hockey hotbeds square off in elimination games on Wednesday, marking the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs’ first round.
The New York Rangers will host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7 p.m. EST at Madison Square Garden in what seemed like an inevitable Game 7 of their blood feud. Colorado will host Minnesota at 9:30 p.m. in a series where the home team has won every game. And San Jose will try to avoid the worst collapse in Western Conference history when it hosts the L.A. Kings, who have rallied from a 3-0 series deficit. Game time is 10 p.m.
"We’re excited to play a Game 7; always great games, great atmospheres," Kings center Jarrett Stoll told FOX Sports West. "You want to be the hero in those types of games, play well and be counted on as an important part of something like that."
L.A. is trying to become just the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. Toronto did it to Detroit in 1942; the New York Islanders did it to Pittsburgh in 1975 and Philadelphia turned the trick against Boston in 2010.
None of those series looked as one-sided as this one did through the first three games. San Jose embarrassed Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick and the league’s best defensive team during the regular season, outscoring L.A. 17-8 over the first three games of the series to push the 2012 Cup champs to the brink. Since then, Quick has allowed four goals, L.A. has scored 13 and the Sharks are seeing the ghosts of playoff failures past.
This is the seventh time in the last 10 seasons that the Sharks reached 100 points; they have never reached a Stanley Cup Final.
"When I look at this series, our core, our high-end players if you will, got the better of theirs in the first two to three games and it certainly has swung in their favor now," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "We have to get a winning performance out of a lot of players who maybe have not had that over the last little bit. But we’re counting on it (Wednesday)."
New York will be counting on the Madison Square Garden mystique to carry it past its nearby rival. The Rangers are 5-0 all-time in Game 7s at MSG and have won 10 of the last 11 meetings with Philadelphia there. But there are troubling signs for the Blueshirts, as well.
New York’s power play hasn’t converted in its last 20 chances and Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason has been superb since replacing Ray Emery in Game 3. In three-plus games, Mason has the postseason’s second-best save percentage (.939) and third-best goals against average (1.95). Not that he’s dwelling on his current success.
"You’ve got to hop on the train and put it behind you. I’ve got a few episodes of ‘Scandal’ to catch up on," Mason told reporters, referring to the popular TV show.
And in Game 6, Mason was as solid as it gets, stopping 36 of 38 shots on Tuesday night and carrying a shutout into the game’s final seven minutes. And, like with any good series, the Flyers are getting their postseason hero.
With his season-extending hat trick in Game 6, gritty forward Wayne Simmonds is tied for the NHL lead in postseason goals with four.
"We’re not ready to go home yet," Simmonds told the media after the game.
Scandal was the overriding storyline when the Avalanche and Wild hooked up for Game 6 on Monday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
A pair of blown calls — one a holding penalty, the other a missed offside — led to Colorado’s game-tying goal late in Game 5, a game the Avs won in overtime in Denver to mark the third time in three games at Pepsi Center that they had rallied from a deficit to win.
Minnesota stayed alive with a dominant Game 6 performance from forward Zach Parise (two goals, two assists), but controversy aside, the Wild have not been able to break through in Denver yet in this series. And they understand that the hype and aura of a Game 7 make that feat even more challenging.
"It’s obviously just a number," Wild forward Jason Pominville told FOX Sports North, "but at the same time, it’s do or die."
And one other treat for fans — offense. There are two players tied atop the NHL playoff scoring charts with 10 points apiece, and both will on the ice in Denver on Wednesday.
Parise’s four-point game gave him 10 for the postseason. The other player is Nathan MacKinnon. If Simmonds is emerging as a postseason hero for the Flyers, MacKinnon may be emerging as the NHL’s next superstar. At this time last year, the 18-year-old was playing for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Now, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft is a Calder (Rookie of the Year) favorite, the co-leading scorer in the NHL playoffs, and the most unstoppable offensive force in the postseason. He is tied for the NHL lead with eight playoff assists, has a plus-5 rating, and has a point in each of the Avalanche’s two OT goals (1 G, 1 A). And all 10 of his points have come at home.
How good has MacKinnon been?
"We always talk about the game and when different guys retire, we wonder who’s going to come in, step up and be the next guy? You see a guy like Nathan MacKinnon come along, play at the level he’s playing, carry himself the way he carries himself, it says a lot of good things about the game. The NHL is in good shape."