PITTSBURGH -- There is something awful and final and ultimately beautiful about a Game 7 no matter when it takes place and no matter who the combatants are.
When a Game 7 takes place during the earlier rounds -- as will be the case Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh -- it marks a great demarcation point.
Either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the New York Rangers will find a way to sneak at least one more puck into the opposing net to move on to the Eastern Conference finals against either the Boston Bruins or the Montreal Canadiens.
The moment it happens, they will forget entirely, or almost entirely, all the things that went into this series.
If the Rangers win Tuesday night and successfully erase a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in their history (they have forced a seventh game when trailing so only twice), they might think about how they rallied around Martin St. Louis after the sudden death of his mother before Game 5. But as every minute passes between the end of Game 7 and the start of the conference finals, the series against the Penguins will recede exponentially until it will become a blurry, out-of-focus memory by the time the puck drops for Game 1 of the next series.
If the Penguins are able to reverse a trend that has seen them outscored 8-2 in the past two games, two games that could have seen them move on to a second straight final four, they might wonder for a time about the ebbs and flows to their games. But trust us, it won't matter that Sidney Crosby managed just one goal through the first 13 postseason games (if that's how it ends up shaking down) or that the Penguins' defensive game continues to be a bit of an exercise in chaos or that they slumbered through the first period in three of the first six games of the series. Not one bit.
That is the great beauty of a Game 7: win, and forget you were that close to the edge. Win, and move on safe in the knowledge that you didn't flinch and that forgetting whatever happened before is the reward of winning that game.
So, here's a look at five things that might determine where the line is drawn Tuesday night between forgetting after winning and living with the dark memories of losing.