The second round of the NHL playoffs could come to an end Wednesday night, as the Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins series heads to a deciding seventh game and the Los Angeles Kings try to stave off elimination at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in L.A.
The Kings, who put together a commanding 2-0 series lead in Anaheim, have now dropped three consecutive games against the Ducks and must win Game 6 to keep their championship ambitions alive. For the Kings, who came back after being down 3-0 to San Jose in Round 1, the turn in this series must be disconcerting.
Meanwhile, the Bruins will have home ice as they try for the second time to put Montreal away. The Canadiens won Game 6 in Montreal by a 4-0 score as Carey Price continues to impress.
Read on for three storylines and a prediction for both games on the schedule Wednesday.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins
Can Boston stop hitting goalposts?
The Bruins have hit seven goalposts in this series, as opposed to only one for the Canadiens. Over six games, a 7-1 spread in goalposts could have been decisive.
It’s wrong to chalk everything up to a lack of finishing skills by the Bruins, because as every goalie ever will happily remind the reader, shooters hit the post when they don’t have much else to shoot at. Even so, a little more accuracy from Boston’s shooters could well have helped finish this series already.
Will Dennis Seidenberg return?
The left side of the Bruins’ defensive depth chart has been uncharacteristically weak in 2014, with reliable veteran Dennis Seidenberg sidelined since December 2013 after undergoing surgery on his right knee.
The Bruins took the sensible approach, assuming that Seidenberg was done for the year and adding another veteran (Andrej Meszaros) at the trade deadline. But they still miss Seidenberg, and there have been some extremely encouraging signs in the last few days:
Assuming Seidenberg feels he’s ready, Boston coach Claude Julien will need to decide whether it would be wise to start him in the deciding game of an extremely competitive playoff series.
Will P.K. Subban be front and centre again?
Montreal’s star defenceman has had some ups and downs over the course of the season, but he’s been brilliant in the second round and particularly so on the road. In the three games played in Boston, Subban has scored three goals and notched two assists.
A lightning rod for anger from Bruins fans, Subban clearly enjoys being the focus of attention.
“I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building,” he told the Toronto Sun in reference to Game 7. “I can’t wait to take that all away from them.”
Prediction: Boston 4, Montreal 2
Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Will Los Angeles be able to beat John Gibson?
The Ducks have had their share, and then some, of goaltending trouble this season. No team in the NHL is deeper in net, though, and that’s been proven lately by the play of John Gibson. The 20-year-old rookie started the season fourth on the Ducks’ goaltending depth chart, but he has started the last two games for Anaheim and been brilliant in both.
After starting his NHL playoff career with a 28-save shutout, Gibson made 39 saves in Game 5, helping the Ducks win a game in which they were outshot by a nearly 2-1 ratio.
Anaheim really hasn’t been great in taking the 3-2 lead in its series against L.A., but Gibson has been much, much better than Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Can Jonathan Quick get back to his Conn Smythe-level play?
Quick justly earned serious accolades for his phenomenal work at the end of the first round and at the start of the second this year.
However, as we noted here after his Game 2 victory against the Ducks, Quick has been streaky all season. His six consecutive wins at that point came on the heels of six consecutive losses, and while the Kings goalie is capable of stellar play, he has also proven himself capable of wretched slumps.
He’s in one now. A 0.864 save-percentage performance in Game 3 has been the best night’s work in three consecutive defeats at the hands of the Ducks, and his playoff save percentage of 0.911 is now firmly in the “average” range overall.
Can the overextended Kings defence help out its goalie?
Los Angeles has dealt with serious injuries on its blue line in this postseason, with veterans Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr forced out of the lineup.
Those losses have opened up space for No. 7 defenceman Matt Greene and No. 8 option Jeff Schultz, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter is only willing to use those players so much. Greene in particular has topped the 14-minute mark only once in the last four contests, while minor league call-up Schultz fell to a low of 15:05 in Game 4.
With Schultz’s ice time decreasing and Greene clearly not trusted by the coaches, more and more responsibility has been hung on the Kings’ top four, which face the difficult task of shutting down one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams.
Prediction: Los Angeles 3, Anaheim 1
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer; follow him on Twitter for more of his work.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com.