The Boston Bruins couldn’t close out their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6, losing 4-0, which has forced a decisive Game 7 Wednesday night at TD Garden.
This is the stage where reputations are made and legacies are born, and luckily for the Bruins, they have more experience than their rivals in this kind of pressure-packed setting. Boston has an 88-38 edge in Game 7 experience, and with a roster full of veterans, the B’s will be the favorites before puck drop.
Let’s examine the five most pivotal players in the Bruins-Canadiens Game 7 showdown, excluding the goaltenders (because they’re obviously the most important guys on the ice).
Bruins center David Krejci
Boston’s top line was thoroughly outplayed in Game 6, and Krejci’s lackluster performance was the primary reason why. Despite getting over 20 minutes of ice time, Krejci tallied just three shots on goal, a missed shot, nine faceoff losses and zero points.
Krejci’s unwillingness to shoot is a problem for the Bruins. He’s a talented playmaker, and his brilliant passes and patience with the puck create a lot of scoring chances for linemates Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, but he needs to be more selfish in the attacking zone. Boston is averaging 8.1 percent less shots than the opponent during 5-on-5 play when Krejci is on the ice, and that’s not surprising given the fact that he has registered 2.1 shots per game.
Krejci still hasn’t scored a goal through 11 playoff games, and if his struggles continue in Game 7 and the top line doesn’t produce offensively, the Bruins likely will be eliminated.
Bruins center Carl Soderberg
Soderberg has been one of Boston’s top players in Round 2. The Swede is helping the Bruins maintain puck possession, evidenced by his corsi-for percentage of 59.4, and the team is averaging 7.3 percent more shots when he’s on the ice.
In addition to his offensive production (five points in six games versus Montreal), Soderberg is winning puck battles, back-checking consistently, creating scoring chances on the power play and helping the Bruins’ transition game with speed through the neutral zone. He has been a reliable three-zone player, and his chemistry with linemates Matt Fraser and Loui Eriksson is rapidly improving. In fact, that trio has been the B’s best line of Round 2.
Soderberg was the first star in Game 5, when he scored his first career playoff goal and added two assists. The Bruins need a similar performance from him Wednesday night, especially if the first line has another bad game.
Bruins winger Brad Marchand
Marchand’s playoff goal drought reached 19 games after another lackluster performance in Game 6. He is a top-six forward capable of scoring 20 to 25 goals during an 82-game regular season, so the Bruins rely on him to find the back of the net and create scoring chances with his impressive speed and one-on-one skill. He has failed to do that in the postseason, and it’s hurting the B’s offense.
Marchand has been a quality possession player in the playoffs (57.4 corsi-for percentage). He just hasn’t capitalized on any of his scoring chances, including a few missed shots on wide open nets.
Marchand needs to start scoring, but he also must play well in other areas, specifically the penalty kill. The Bruins have struggled in short-handed situations in Round 2, with power-play goals given up in four of the six games. If Marchand can’t generate much offense in Game 7, he must excel on the penalty kill and make the most out of any power-play time he receives. Special teams will be a key element in the outcome.
Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty
Pacioretty scored 39 goals in the regular season — the fourth-highest total in the NHL — but he didn’t find the back of the net against Boston until the second period of Game 6. He also added a power-play assist to cap a performance that should elevate his confidence going into the first Game 7 of his career.
The Bruins will have the last line change as the home team Wednesday night, which means Pacioretty will be matched up against B’s captain Zdeno Chara for most of his even-strength shifts. Pacioretty was a non-factor in the three previous Round 2 games in Boston, failing to score a goal and averaging under four shots per game. Chara kept him to the outside and thwarted every rush toward the Bruins net with his long reach and strength advantage. As a result, Pacioretty’s line was badly out-shot in Games 1 and 2 at TD Garden.
Pacioretty, despite being a two-time 30-plus goal scorer during the regular season, has tallied just two goals in 14 career playoff games. A goal or two in Game 7 would elevate the American forward to a new level of stardom.
Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban
Although Bruins fans might not want to hear it, Subban has been the best player in this series. He leads both teams in Round 2 with four goals and seven points, and he has enjoyed a lot of success in Boston, with three goals and two assists in the three previous games at TD Garden in this series.
Subban is the key to the Canadiens’ offense. His brilliant skating ability helps Montreal break Boston’s neutral-zone defense and enter the attacking zone cleanly. His play-making skills create scoring chances for teammates, and his powerful shot from the point is nearly impossible to stop with its incredible accuracy.
Unlike a lot of young players, Subban relishes the spotlight and isn’t fazed by a hostile road crowd. A strong performance from Subban would significantly boost Montreal’s chances of eliminating Boston. He’ll see lots of ice time in clutch moments toward the end of the game.
P.K. Subban on Game 7: "I can't wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can't wait to take that all away from them."—
Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) May 13, 2014