By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – They don’t keep statistics on hits and collisions in the ECHL. Those numbers can still be charted, though, through bumps, bruises and injuries.
After beating each other through six rugged playoff games, the Reading Royals and Cincinnati Cyclones have plenty of wear and tear on their proverbial chassis going into Monday’s decisive Game 7 of the North Division finals at U.S. Bank Arena.
The game, and the series, could come down to which team has the highest threshold for pain. There’s plenty of motivation, with an American Conference finals berth going to the winner and summer break awaiting the loser.
“Monday is going to be a huge challenge for both teams to be ready for,” Royals coach Karl Taylor said. “It’s been a really tough series. Guys are banged up.
“But the only team that will be sore after Monday is the team that loses.”
It’s just the 13th time in the 20-year history of the ECHL that a playoff series has gone to a seventh game. The home teams have taken nine of those contests.
But the Cyclones have gone to a Game 7 twice and lost both times, including last year’s meeting with Dayton in the division finals.
The Royals were pushed into a seventh game for the first time in club history Saturday when Cincinnati won 4-2 at the Sovereign Center to force tonight’s finale.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Royals wing Chris Blight said. “We’re up against the best team in the league. They only lost 12 games all year for a reason. They’re a good team.
“No team has won two games in a row in this series. Hopefully we can keep that trend going on Monday.”
Both teams will look to solve the other’s penalty kill. Cincinnati has the league’s top power play, but is 0-for-its-last-26 with the man advantage, going back to the first period of Game 3.
The Royals were 1-of-8 Saturday, but they didn’t score on the power play until late in the third period. They came up empty on a four-minute power play in the first period.
“There’s no question their PK made some adjustments,” Taylor said. “They didn’t attack as much. They really held the net front and collapsed and blocked a lot of pucks. We’ll have to find a way to get those through on Monday.”
Throughout the playoffs, the Royals have seemed to find a way in pressure situations.
They took 2-of-3 last week at U.S. Bank Arena against a team that lost just four times at home during the regular season. They also took 2-of-3 at Elmira in the semifinals.
“We’ve come back a few times during these playoffs, and we almost came back again Saturday,” Blight said. “Hopefully we have that attitude going into Game 7, and we’re desperate from the start and we get all over them.”
If it does come down to heart on Monday, Taylor likes his team’s chances.
“I love these guys,” he said. “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of. Our team will respond. That’s a great bunch who really care and they don’t want this to end. Neither do we.
“So let’s make sure we win Monday so it doesn’t end.”