Over the next 48 hours, three times from lunchtime through bedtime today, the two most exciting words in sports will be played out before our eager (and, if you happen to be in the New York area, indoor-restricted) eyes.
The battle for Northern California reaches an epic conclusion this afternoon in Sacramento, where the upstart Kings will attempt to dethrone the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The KIngs unexpectedly forced a deciding game at their home of the Beam after the Dubs, who had rattled off three consecutive wins and seemed poised to reclaim their role as incumbent and favorite with a thrilled crowd in San Francisco rooting them on Friday night, inexplicably regressed with their worst performance to date. And the tone of Inside The Warriors’s Farbod Esnaashari essentiall sums up the sentiment by the Bay:
Once the Golden State Warriors took a 3-2 lead over the Sacramento Kings, no one expected a Game 7 to happen. Well, it’s here, and it’s do-or-die time for both teams.
The Warriors have three players listed on their injury report. Andre Iguodala is out with left wrist surgery, Patrick Baldwin Jr. is out with left toe soreness, and Ryan Rollins is out with right surgery.
Despite being banged up, the Sacramento Kings only have one player listed on their injury report. Matthew Dellavedova is the only player listed on the injury report with a right index finger surgery.
Due to injuries, it’s been an accidental year of parity in the Western Conference. Outside of a fully healthy Denver Nuggets squad right now, no one seems like a clear favorite in the West.
There is nothing for the Warriors to do but win this Game 7. They have to play with the energy and desperation that they came out with in Game 5 and forget that Game 6 ever happened. The Golden State Warriors wanted this matchup against the Sacramento Kings, and tonight it’s time to show why.
The winner draws a relatively rested Los Angeles Lakers team in round two, with home advantage, to be sure, but an opponent that’s fresh off a series-clinching blowout of the Memphis Grizzlies by the same number of points (40) that Dillon Brooks believes someone should score on him in order for them to earn his respect. Brooks might or might not be watching today. but he should, as he can only aspire to have the professionalism and determination the Northern California teams have displayed.
Meanwhile, the NHL will take center stage tonight with two series deciders of their own, with their current league champion and the team that broke the all-time record for regular season success both needing home victories against upstarts to advance their ascent toward another title. As NHL. com sets up, there is panic not only in the disco, but among the reporters who cover these teams:
As the person who has attended all six games of this series — not to mention watching the Bruins all season — I’m at a loss. The Bruins haven’t looked like the team they’ve been all season in almost any games in this series. Goalie Linus Ullmark has looked shaky (and the Bruins could swap to Jeremy Swayman). Coach Jim Montgomery has made some head-scratching decisions but, somehow, I still have faith in this team turning it around. Maybe it’s that they’ve been here so much — Boston is 4-2 since 2010 in Game 7s after losing Game 6 when they could have eliminated their opponent — or maybe it’s that I can’t see captain Patrice Bergeron going down with this team, in this Game 7, in what could be the final game of his NHL career. I’m not as confident as I once was, but I’m going with the Bruins. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
I find it hard to believe the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins are in this position, but they suddenly appear vulnerable against what appears to be a more confident and energetic team with nothing to lose. I’m taking Florida to win. It basically comes down to the fact I have more confidence in goalie Sergei Bobrovsky than I do in Linus Ullmark right now. The Panthers have succeeded in two must-win scenarios already, so why not a third on the road in Boston in a winner-take-all matchup? Ullmark has allowed four or more goals three times in this series after conceding four goals or more just twice during the regular season. Boston had the best regular-season record in NHL history, finished 43 points ahead of Florida in the standings and couldn’t hold one-goal leads on two separate occasions in the third period of Game 6. The Panthers have the momentum. — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
The Kraken have had their coming-out party in this series. They have taken it to the defending Stanley Cup champions, outplaying them for long stretches. Though the Avalanche have better high-end talent, the Kraken have more depth. In theory, Seattle should wear down Colorado during the course of seven games. But the Avalanche slowly have started to figure out the Kraken, and in a 4-1 win in Game 6, they got to their game. They started skating and got the snowball rolling in the right direction. I’m not sure the Avalanche have the depth to repeat as Cup champions, but I do think they have enough in the tank to win Game 7 — and too much pride to go out quietly. — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist
Though I’m going with the favorite in the Panthers-Bruins Game 7 on Sunday, I’m going in the other direction here. There’s just something about the Kraken in their second season, much like there was with the Las Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season in 2018. I went to Seattle a few weeks ago to work on some stories and you could feel the excitement and the confidence building — and it’s only gotten bigger since they’ve taken the Avalanche to Game 7. The Avalanche have simply taken too many hits this season, lost too many players, and the Kraken believe. I picked the Avalanche to play the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final — and now I’m picking them to lose in the first round. Kraken, it is. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
Meanwhile, the civil war of the rainy Tri-State area plays to its coda tomorrow night in Newark, where the Devils will attempt to vanquish the Rangers. The Rangers saved their season with an inspired 5-2 win last night at Madison Square Garden with a national broadcast television audience watching. As the New York Post’s veteran reporter Mark Cannizzaro observed, the unpredictability of this matchup was in full evidence:
Momentum is a strange and elusive beast.
The Rangers, after the first two games in this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, looked like they were about to boat-race the Devils. En route to a 2-0 series lead, the Rangers looked like they could — and would — do no wrong. They looked confident and seasoned while ripping the Devils on their home ice in consecutive blowouts.
The Devils, meanwhile, looked dazed and confused and were playing as if they had bought into the theory that their lack of playoff experience, compared to the Rangers’, would eventually doom them.
Then came the next three games.
Momentum be damned.
The Devils took Games 3 and 4 at the Garden and then thoroughly embarrassed the Rangers in a Game 5 shutout on Thursday night at Prudential Center to take a 3-2 series lead.
That led to Game 6 on Saturday night at the Garden. The Devils, having found their legs and their confidence, were on a roll. And the Rangers, needing a win to force a Game 7, were on life support with their play having deteriorated with each of the three consecutive losses.
Maybe it was the presence of Aaron Rodgers in the celebrity seats taking in his first Rangers game as Jets quarterback and drawing raucous cheers from the home crowd.
Maybe it was the fact that the Knicks are about to begin their second-round playoff series Sunday afternoon against the Heat and were hoping for some postseason company in the building the two teams share.
Whatever it was, there was an urgency from the Rangers we hadn’t felt all series. There was fire. There was anger. And in the end, there was an emphatic 5-2 victory over the Devils, which means there will be a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday night at Prudential Center.
Go ahead and try to figure this series out.
Momentum be damned.
Momentum be damned indeed. But may the number 7 be praised.