Game Seven. We’ve already previously offered how important it is to media rights holders for post-season basketball and hockey series to go their limits (as well as baseball) so they can actually be in the black money-wise. For fans, it goes without saying that Game 7s offer the ultimate in buildup, tension and the kind of drama that, frankly, no scripted work could ever possibly duplicate.
And this weekend we magically get seven such climaxes clustered into less than 33 hours. Hot diggity.
In the NBA, we get two of the four conference semifinals going to the max, climaxing with a scintillating Sunday doubleheader. In tomorrow’s prime-time slot, Western Conference champion Phoenix will host Dallas. Phoenix was also this season’s top regular season team. But the Mavericks’ Luca Doncic is on fire, having reached 700 playoff points faster than any player in league history, keeping Mark Cuban and company alive with a spirited 33/11/8 performance in Game 6 before a delirious Texas crowd. Whether he can deliver a knockout punch back in Arizona is an open question, but he is clearly developing into a true superstar before our eyes.
Playing at an even higher level is the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, who not only lifted Boston on his shoulders with a 46-point outburst last night, denying the Bucks their ninth consecutive series win in a home closeout opportunity, but he outdueled Giannis Antetokounmpo on Greek Freak’s home court, eclipsing his 44/20 performance. The C’s, left for dead after Milwaukee rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to win Game 5 in Boston, will return to the TD Garden tomorrow afternoon for what shapes up to be perhaps a decade-defining showdown between an incumbent champion and an insurgent, resilient young team who just happens to have home court advantage.
In the NHL–well, can you say FIVE such showdowns will take place this weekend? Put this in perspective–in the last 82 years an average of just over two Game 7s occurred annually, and the maximum in any one year was seven (of a possible 15 series in normal years). We’re already well on our way to shattering those benchmarks.
Today we will have a tripleheader, with the marquee matchup in Toronto between the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Maple Leafs. The Leafs have been the poster child for elimination game futility, having now lost nine consecutive post-season games where a win would have advanced them into the next round. They do have home ice advantage, but the Bolts have shown that despite slipping a notch the championships they won in the last two COVID-impacted season were not flukes. A thrilling Game 6 overtime goal by the appropriately named Brayden Point sent this series back to Canada, where MVP candidate Auston Matthews will look to exorcise Toronto’s playoff demons. Carolina and Edmonton will try to stand up for smaller market supremacy by trying to eliminate Boston and Los Angeles, respectively, in today’s other eliminators.
Sunday, the attention will be on Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers will look to knock out the Pittsburgh Penguins and win their first playoff series in five years. Down 3-1 after a horrendous two games last weekend in the Steel City where Igor Shestyorkin ultimately was pulled from Game 4, the Rangers have responded with two consecutive wins to force this showdown on their home ice in front of those Victory Song crooners. Not to be outdone, Calgary will wrap up the weekend looking to oust Dallas in a battle of U.S. and Canadian cowboy towns.
The Rangers represent an opportunity for true serendipity, having lost their series opener in thrilling but demoralizing triple overtime fashion. Roughly a quarter of the NHL’s Game 7s have gone to overtime, a hockey fan’s ideal scenario and, frankly, a source of tension that can’t be eclipsed anywhere else in the sports world. Overtime hockey elimination games are like a Bataan death march, with a season on the line and where one slip-up, errant puck or lucky bounce can make or break a season. The excitement was overwhelming in the series opener; should it happen tomorrow night the sounds from 33rd and 7th will be deafening.
And NHL TV executives will likely be even happier. Ratings are up double-digits from the most recent “normal” post-season of 2019, and this weekend should help that delta grow even higher. A Rangers win would keep the New York market in the post-season which would help the next round, and might allay some of the meh feeling that having Edmonton and Carolina in the mix might produce.
Seven game 7s. Thanks to phones, we can still get our tans and steps in while taking it all in.
I’m there. You?