NHL playoffs Game 7 day: Panthers-Bruins, Kraken-Avalanche
When the Boston Bruins took a 3-1 series lead on the Florida Panthers, it looked like the team that set NHL records for the most wins and points in a season was cruising toward the second round.
Except within the opponent's locker room.
“There was not a single doubt in this locker room,” Panthers winger Anthony Duclair said. “We believed that we could come back, and now we did.”
Against the odds, Florida has forced a Game 7 at Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston, the top seed in the East and the favorite to win the Stanley Cup. But it won't be the only series decider Sunday night: The defending champion Colorado Avalanche forced a Game 7 on home ice against the Seattle Kraken after winning on the road to avoid elimination.
“Winner takes all,” Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen said.
And loser goes home.
The Bruins are trying to avoid being the second team in five years to finish atop the league in the regular season and lose in the first round. The Avalanche are attempting to prevent becoming the first reigning champions to get knocked out by a team playing its first playoff series in franchise history.
Boston and Colorado are each favored to win by FanDuel Sportsbook, but the pressure also is squarely on them.
PANTHERS at BRUINS (6:30 p.m. EDT, TNT)
They split four games in the regular season, they’ve split six games in the playoffs and now Boston and Florida are heading into a game to decide who moves on.
While the Bruins are seeking to avoid a monumental collapse, the Panthers are looking for perhaps their most significant win since a run to the Cup Final in 1996.
“We're excited,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “We played playoff games for a while, since like February or March. We’ve been playing that type of game, battling for our lives, so it was pretty much like nothing new to us.”
Florida survived overtime in Game 5 to fend off elimination the first time, then erased two deficits in the third period of Game 6 to stay alive again.
“We’ve been trying to have that mindset throughout the season to try to close out series here and there,” said Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark, the Vezina Trophy favorite who allowed six goals on 32 shots in Game 6 and could get benched for Jeremy Swayman on Sunday. “Now we just have one more opportunity now."
It’ll be the 14th Game 7 for Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron, the 12th for David Krejci and 11th for Brad Marchand. Each has played in six wins in those situations.
For the Panthers, Game 7 history is scant. Marc Staal has been in seven previous such games, Eric Staal has been in five, Matthew Tkachuk and Brandon Montour one each.
But Panthers coach Paul Maurice said his team has earned its way into this decider.
“I think Game 7’s fair,” said Maurice, who is 3-0 in such games as a coach — all three of those wins coming on the road, including one in Boston in 2009. “I mean, they’ve deserved to win games in this series, for sure. We haven’t been dominant by any means (and) don’t expect to be in Game 7. But the learning experience, the pressure and the joy of Game 7, I think they’ve earned.”
KRAKEN at AVALANCHE (9:30 p.m., TNT)
Seattle was outshot 39-23 and outplayed by more seasoned Colorado in the franchise-first chance at eliminating an opponent and moving on. Now the Kraken don't have a lot of time to regroup, with only one more opportunity.
“Just play like it’s any other game," defenseman Vince Dunn said. “Every play counts. You just have to be mentally focused every time you’re out there.”
Coach Dave Hakstol said he knows what his team is and where it's at, adding, “I know we're ready to go.”
The Avalanche certainly are, with much of their core back from the title run last year. Players have talked about how the 2022 playoffs showed the importance of mental strength, and they showed it by going into Seattle and winning convincingly.
But to avoid getting bounced in the first round, they need one more victory on Sunday.
“Feel like anytime we’ve had adversity this year, we kind of looked at it in the face and said we’re going to take it one step at a time and go right at it,” Avalanche defenseman and reigning playoff MVP Cale Makar said. “Huge character win for us (in Game 6). Hopefully it (gives) a lot of guys confidence in terms of what we’re able to do out there.”
The winner faces Dallas in the next round after the Stars moved past the Minnesota Wild in six.
AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds, Pat Graham and Tim Booth contributed to this report.
AP NHL Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press