Who will emerge victorious and move on to the Western Conference finals? Our panel identifies the X factors in the game, and makes predictions on the final score.
Who will be the X factor in deciding the winner of Game 7 of the Golden Knights-Canucks series?
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Max Pacioretty. The Golden Knights are living a charmed NHL life. They’re on the verge of making the conference finals for the second time in their first three years. They already have developed a rabid fan base. And they haven’t seemed to whiff on many players. A particularly strong addition has been Pacioretty, traded this season from Montreal. Pacioretty has been a tremendous fit, putting up his highest points-per-game rate (0.93) of his 12-season career. Pacioretty has been dominant in these playoffs, with 10 goals and 18 points through 16 games, and I’m feeling another big game from him.
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Thatcher Demko. The 24-year-old gave the Canucks new life with his incredible 42-save Game 5 performance, and one-upped himself with a 48-save shutout in Game 6. Vancouver is an incredibly talented team. It’s also a very inexperienced team, and one that hasn’t quite figured out this whole postseason defense thing, with an expected goals against of 2.69 per 60 minutes. They relied on Jacob Markstrom to bail them out for two rounds and change. Then it fell to Demko, and he’s done the job. He’ll need to do it one more time against a Vegas team that has shown it can come at the Canucks in waves offensively this series.
Chris Peters, NHL draft and prospects analyst: Shea Theodore. This series has been the introduction to Theodore for a lot of hockey fans. The highly skilled defenseman is getting the job done at both ends of the ice. The Golden Knights are outscoring the Canucks in all situations with Theodore on the ice and at 5-on-5. Vegas is owning the puck in this series, but particularly so with Theodore on the ice at 5-on-5, as he leads Vegas defensemen in Corsi for percentage. He simply makes them better, and this is another opportunity to shine.
Sachin Chandan, fantasy hockey editor: Elias Pettersson. Pettersson has scored or assisted in 41% of Vancouver’s goals, so it’s clear that for the Canucks to win Game 7, he will have to lead the way. Additionally, he’s drawn an NHL-leading 11 penalties, placing the Golden Knights on the penalty kill and leading to more chances to add to his 10 power-play points.
What’s your pick on the game?
Kaplan: Golden Knights 6, Canucks 2. I love watching this Canucks team; they feel like a group that is just on the verge of sustained success, kind of like the Blackhawks in 2009. But Vegas is a team ready to win now, and their overall experience and depth will prevail. I like the Golden Knights to score early and often in this one.
Wyshynski: Canucks 3, Golden Knights 2. They’ve come this far, they’ve got the moment on their side and with back-to-back games, I’m going with the speedy, nothing-to-lose kids over the veterans facing another stunning elimination with a Cup-thirsty owner breathing down their necks.
Peters: Golden Knights 4, Canucks 2. Peter DeBoer has crowed about the depth the Golden Knights have and I have to agree with him. This is a battle-hardened group that has to be frustrated with this even getting to a seventh game. I just don’t see guys like Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty letting this one get away from them.
Chandan: Canucks 2, Golden Knights 1. Despite losing Games 5 and 6, Vegas has outshot the Canucks, gotten better quality chances, and played stronger defense up the middle. They just haven’t cracked Demko. The Canucks swarm the front of the net, leading to so many goals off deflections and tap-ins in front of Robin Lehner, and it’ll be just enough to get them through.