The two Central Division foes have given us some entertaining hockey, taking turns completely outclassing each other. Who will emerge victorious and move on to the Western Conference finals?
Our experts identify the players who will be the difference-makers in the contest, and make their final score predictions as well.
Who will be the X factor in deciding the winner of Game 7 of the Avalanche-Stars series?
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Nathan MacKinnon. After Game 6, a reporter reminded Mackinnon that he has played in a Game 7 before. “Two, actually,” MacKinnon quickly corrected. The Avs didn’t win either — an overtime loss to the Wild in MacKinnon’s rookie season, and a 3-2 loss to San Jose in last year’s second round — and you can tell both games still grate on the 25-year-old. MacKinnon has been a monster these playoffs, scoring a point in each of Colorado’s 14 games (nine goals, 25 points total, with 21:24 of average ice time) and I expect him to exert his will on the Stars and totally take this game over.
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Joe Pavelski. After the Stars lost in a double-overtime Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues last year, the subsequent soul-searching led them to find playoff battle-tested veterans in free agency who could get them that one absolutely filthy goal in a must-win spot. One of them was Corey Perry. The other was Joe Pavelski, whose postseason heroics with the Sharks are well established. He has lived up to the billing, with eight goals and three assists in 15 games for Dallas. But the Stars paid him $8 million this season to be the difference in a Game 7 situation. “Regardless of the situation, I just want to perform in a Game 7. I don’t know if that adds anything to it or not,” he told me. “It’s about giving yourself the chance to keep playing. The No. 1 goal is to do whatever you can to win a game.”
Chris Peters, NHL draft and prospects analyst: Both goaltenders. Has there been a wilder series when it comes to goaltending? Between the whole back-and-forth with Ben Bishop and his questionable fitness to play, and the Avs being forced to put their playoff lives in the hands of third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson, it’s been an awfully precarious situation. Either way, Hutchinson has performed remarkably well in his two games save for one flub. Meanwhile, Anton Khudobin has been leakier over his past four appearances than previously in the postseason. So yeah, goaltending is bound to be a major X factor in this highly anticipated Game 7.
Sachin Chandan, fantasy hockey editor: John Klingberg. As Klingberg goes, so do the Stars? In Stars wins, Klingberg has scored or assisted on 29% of goals, ranking him second on the team behind Miro Heiskanen. In losses, that percentage is zero. Klingberg has the third-highest power-play time on the team, and his success is a signal that the power play is working — and leading to good team results. The Stars have gone 5-for-11 with the man advantage in their three wins this series, versus 2-for-10 in the three losses.
What’s your pick on the game?
Kaplan: Colorado 4, Dallas 2. The first five games of this series were offensive explosions, with the winner scoring at least five goals. Game 6 represented a bit more of what we expect from playoff hockey, with a tighter and better defensive structure. Give me something in between those extremes for Game 7. Ultimately, I’m expecting a multipoint performance from MacKinnon, and frustration from the Stars for not being able to get more past journeyman Hutchinson. Oh, and give me at least one dazzling play apiece from Cale Makar and Heiskanen.
Wyshynski: Colorado 3, Dallas 1. I think the fireworks get put away and we get an absolute tension convention for most of this game, as the Stars finally find the effort to match the execution again. But the way Colorado has been controlling the pace of play in these games, I don’t expect the downward offensive trend for the Stars to perk back up again, absent an unexpected return to form from their top line.
Peters: Colorado 4, Dallas 3. MacKinnon is such a singular talent that he overshadows so much of what the Avs do well collectively. They have pretty remarkable depth, all things considered. It feels more and more like the Stars are leaking gas just a bit, whether it be due to injury or the general fatigue of this postseason setup. Colorado has scored at least four goals in each of the past four games in the series, and I don’t see the Avalanche’s attack slowing down. I also don’t see Dallas going down without a fight, so it’ll be close.
Chandan: Dallas 3, Colorado 2 (OT). Only in this series would 3-2 be considered a low-scoring final. Colorado is an excellent defensive team, which should ease pressure on Hutchinson. Khudobin has played well enough to keep the Stars in games, as long as Dallas’ top line can produce, and I’ll call for the Stars to get the OT winner in an absolute thriller.