Just one series in the conference semi-final round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs went to a Game 7; but, it’s the series we all wanted to go seven games. To help get you prepared for what’s set to transpire in Nashville on Thursday night, we convened our panel of writers for their thoughts on the game.
Who will be the X factor for Game 7 between the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets? Who will win the game?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: My eyes are squarely on Mark Scheifele here. The Jets center is their leading playoff scorer (9-5-14 in 11 games), but there are a couple of trends that make him the X factor. When he scores, the Jets generally win: He has three goals and three assists in their three wins in the series. But in losses in Games 4 and 6 to Nashville, Scheifele didn’t tally a point. He’s also been gangbusters in Nashville during this series: five goals and two assists in three games. He’s had at least a point in his last six games in Nashville, including the regular season.
However, my pick was Nashville before the series, and I’m sticking to it: Nash Vegas vs. Las Vegas in the Western Conference Final.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Pekka Rinne is my X factor. The 35-year-old had a terrific regular season (he’s the Vezina Trophy front-runner) but has been inconsistent these playoffs — especially at home. In his last five games at Bridgestone Arena, Rinne is 2-3 with a 3.93 goals-against average and .872 save percentage. Rinne is, however, coming off his best game of the series with a 34-save shutout Game 6 win in Winnipeg. Neither team has been able to win more than one game in a row in this series, so if the Predators are going to buck that trend, they’ll need Rinne to come up huge. And, by the way, I have faith he’ll get it done. My prediction is the Predators, and I have a hunch this one is decided in overtime.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects writer: When Filip Forsberg is playing at the top of his game, nobody can stop him. Coming off of his incredible three-point performance that included his filthy between-the-legs goal, Forsberg is tied with Alex Ovechkin for top scorer in the playoffs among teams still alive, with 15 points. Nine of those points have come in this series. He has to have another big game in him to either put some goals on the board or free up some better matchups for others on the Preds. The bigger the threat Forsberg is, the more likely it is the Preds will win.
I’m picking the Predators for the win, though I expect a tight game. I think the home-ice advantage will finally come through, as the Nashville faithful should be good and riled up for the first ever Game 7 in Bridgestone Arena history. Additionally, I think that the 4-0 win in Winnipeg in Game 6 helped stabilize the reeling Preds after that crushing 6-2 loss in Game 5. They looked more themselves and now they have the chance to dictate some matchups more.
Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan discuss the Capitals’ finally taking out the Penguins and the Golden Knights’ push for the Stanley Cup. Plus, ESPN’s Victoria Matiash stops by to give her view on the postseason thus far, and we hear from Patriots kicker Stephen Gostskowski about his Bruins fandom. Plus, all of your favorite segments of the week! Listen »
Ben Arledge, Insider NHL editor: How about Roman Josi? The offensive catalyst has been quiet from the point throughout the playoffs so far, posting just five assists. He had six goals in last year’s playoff run, and had 53 points this season. He had two points in Game 6, so he could feed off that in the final game of the series. It’s time for the blueliner to get involved. From the other bench, I’d point to Patrik Laine to play X factor. He had 44 goals during the season, but has just three through 11 games during playoff action. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the young Finn find the score sheet multiple times Thursday night.
As for the winner, I’m sticking with Winnipeg, even on the road. I think you’ll see an offensive onslaught from the Jets, and I expect a good game from Connor Hellebuyck in net.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN the Magazine researcher: The X factor for me is Winnipeg’s top pair of Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey. The Trouba-Morrissey pair has been called on to play heavy minutes and they’ve controlled play with a 58.4 Corsi for percentage at even strength. To put this into perspective, that’s the best mark for a defensive pair since the Cup-winning Duncan Keith–Brent Seabrook duo in 2015 (minimum 100 minutes of time on ice). The Jets don’t back off the throttle either, as an unbelievable 65.8 percent of scoring chances are for the Jets when Trouba-Morrissey are defending a lead. Trouba-Morrissey have played crucial parts in each of Winnipeg’s wins this series, and if they can do it again, I’m picking the Jets to continue this playoff run.