The prospect of getting the Eastern Conference Finals to a Game 7 seemed hopeful when the Penguins trailed the Senators 2-1 a week ago. But after seemingly seizing control of the series with a 7-0 win in Game 5, only to then drop a clinching opportunity in Ottawa, a Game 7 now seems not so much hopeful, but … what’s the right word? … ah, yes — terrifying.
If the Penguins win tonight, there will be many heroes; if they lose, many goats (and also no GOATs). Here are the top contenders for hero/loser status, as determined by hockey experts such as Mike Milbury and that dumb guy that always somehow gets retweeted into your Twitter timeline.
10. Evgeni Malkin
Malkin is leading the playoffs in scoring by a wide margin thanks to goals like this.
So it will be hard to make him into a goat in defeat. However, if the Penguins do lose, maybe it’s because they’re saddled with a player who clearly isn’t good enough to make the NHL’s all-time list of Top 100 players? Yep. That has to be it.
9. Olli Maatta
Olli MaattaKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Maatta’s resurgence has been huge for the Penguins in the playoffs and makes him seem more like the long-term franchise cornerstone he was thought to be as a rookie. On the other hand, there will be only three defensive pairings in Game 7, meaning there’s a 1-in-3 chance Olli could be on the ice for a game-losing goal. WHAT WERE YOU DOING, OLLI?! YOU HAD TO GET HIM THERE! CLEAR THE PUCK! TRADE OLLI!
8. Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz
Justin SchultzCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Penguins may get back two of their best players for Game 7, talented additions who could make the difference in a tight game.
On the other hand, why mess with a roster that has dominated play for most of the last six periods? What were you thinking, Mike Sullivan, adding two rusty player in a game of that magnitude? Terrible move!
All of your pregame rituals, superstitions and lucky shirt/thong combos are made for games like tonight. The team needs you. They need every little advantage to tip destiny in their favor. Just realize that if the Penguins lose, it will probably be because you took a different route home from the grocery store than you did before Game 7 of the Caps series, YOU STUPID JERK. You ruined the City of Pittsburgh, idiot! Gah. You suck.
6. The X-Factor
The “x-factor” is the term sports media people use when they want to sound like they’re making an insightful prediction about how a lesser-known player could step up in a big situation, but it’s really a way to say: “Absolutely anything could occur and here’s my cowardly way to be able to say I kind of predicted whatever occurs.” So do keep an eye on X-Factor in the deciding game. He could save the Penguins with a clutch goal, amazing pass or game-changing hit. Or maybe he’ll ruin everything by having the season-ending goal bounce in off his skate. History has proven literally anything can occur in these situations.