Two more NHL playoff series could end in elimination games on Wednesday night, and a few individual players could decide who goes to the conference finals and whose runs are over.
For the ninth time in the history of their rivalry, the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will finish a series with a decisive seventh game. The bad blood between these two Original Six franchises and their respective fanbases has been prevalent in this series, and with everything on the line, things will be tense in Boston.
In the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks enter Staples Center with a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Kings, who are facing their fifth elimination game of the postseason. The Kings overcame a 3-0 deficit for just the fourth time in NHL history to oust the San Jose Sharks in the first round, so L.A. won't shrink from the pressure of this game.
Those are the stakes. Now let's see which player on each team will determine the outcomes.
Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara
If things are going to get chippy, Boston is going to need Chara to keep everything in line.
The 6'9" behemoth of a defenseman will get as much ice time as he can handle in Game 7. As long as he's on the ice, bullying Habs players away from the front of the net and firing howitzers from the point, Boston can impose its will on its opponent rather than the other way around.
Zdeno Chara on his 11 Game 7's: "We've been in these situations before, but every game is special, and a little different. It's a new game"— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) May 14, 2014
All this relies on Chara handling an even heavier workload.
He has skated 25:29 minutes per game this postseason, the most of any Bruin by more than three minutes. In Game 7, expect him to be out there closer to 30; if he holds up, expect Boston to excel.
Montreal Canadiens: P.K. Subban
Montreal's playoff points leader has not backed down from pressure at all in this series. Three of Subban's four postseason goals have come on Boston's home ice—two before a barrage of racist tweets Bruins fans directed his way, per CBS Sports' Chris Peters, one after, all in a pair of Canadien wins.
The Habs will need more of that offensive production from their star defenseman.
Subban's flair and aggressiveness kick-start the Canadien attack, which not only increases Montreal's scoring chances but also forces Boston's defense back on its heels, limiting the speed with which the Bruins can counter and generate chances for themselves going the other way.
With him quarterbacking the rush, Montreal has as good of a chance of solving the Bruin defense as anyone.
Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson
The key player here is really "whomever the Ducks put in goal tonight," and for Game 6, that's Gibson.
Anaheim's goalies have shared the net to a historic degree this postseason. Gibson, Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen all have at least two victories during these playoffs, though Gibson, currently sporting a 1.50 goals-against average, is the only one who has yet to drop a game between the pipes.
In 12 playoff games this year, the Kings have scored at least three goals in each of their six victories, but they have been held to two or fewer in half of their six defeats.
Gibson is 2-0 in two career postseason chances; if he can keep L.A. from scoring in bunches, that tally will likely go up by another win.
Los Angeles Kings: Marion Gaborik
Throughout his NHL career, Gaborik has always been a sharpshooter, but his accuracy recently is something else.
Gaborik leads all players with eight goals these playoffs, using 39 shots on goal to get them. That gives him a shooting percentage of 20.5, second only to Jussi Jokinen amongst guys with at least 30 shots on goal this postseason.
Marion Gaborik is the best @LAKings acquisition in years, but someone else needs to score too. I remember TV analysts saying he wouldnt help— Rich Marotta (@boxingrich) May 13, 2014
On top of that, Gaborik has been lighting the lamp in full-strength situations. One of his eight goals has come on the power play, but so have all four of his assists. He has been right on target when the team has most needed him to be, and he has also taken the opportunity to create for teammates when it has been available.
The Kings need to solve Gibson to win, and when it comes to hitting the back of the net, Gaborik is the guy to get it done.