1. FOR ALL THE MARBLES
Game 6 on Friday night, which ended 4-3 in Chicago's favor, was relentless and exhilarating, featuring brilliant performances by some of the best players in the league. But that's over, and the all-important Game 7 looms, guaranteeing passage to the Stanley Cup Final, where the winner of the west will face the New York Rangers. For the Blackhawks, Sunday night's tilt presents the opportunity to complete the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit for the second time in franchise history -- and the second time in consecutive playoff runs. For Los Angeles, a third consecutive winner-take-all contest, after surviving such ordeals in Rounds 1 and 2 against San Jose and Anaheim, respectively. With all of the storylines swirling around the final matchup, it's up to the two teams to give the Western Conference Final the send-off it has earned through six terrific games.
2. HUSTLE AND FLOW
For the second game in a row, the Blackhawks were powered by the line of Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, who have now combined for 14 points in Games 5 and 6. Shaw has three assists and Saad has a goal and three helpers, but Kane has been transcendent, posting seven points (2G, 5A), including the game-winner late in the third period on Friday. The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner opened the scoring for Chicago early in the second period, finishing off a give-and-go move with Jonathan Toews on the power play, ending an 0-for-24 drought on the road. After the Kings reclaimed the lead with two quick strikes in the third period, it was "Showtime," as Kane first threaded a perfect pass for Duncan Keith's tying goal, then exhibited a world of patience with the puck, finding just enough space to send a wrister past Jonathan Quick to stun the home fans. Kane, statistically, has played better in Games 4 through 7 of a playoff series, compiling 52 points (24G, 28A) in 45 career contests; staying hot on Sunday could be crucial for the Blackhawks' chances.
3. CASTING DOUGHTY
The Kings again received valuable contributions from their blue line as they forced a lead change early in the third period. The always-dangerous Drew Doughty sent a screened shot past Corey Crawford; on a power play just over 2 minutes later, it was Doughty again who created an opportunity, twisting away from Marian Hossa's dogged pursuit in the high slot before finding Alec Martinez for a seeing-eye goal. The 2008 second-overall pick has seven points (3G, 4A) in six games against Chicago, and has caused the defending champions fits in their own zone; keeping him off the scoresheet and taking away shooting opportunities should be a top priority for Game 7.
4. BEN INTO SHAPE
Aside from the emergence of the Kane-Saad-Shaw line, the Blackhawks have benefited from timely depth scoring, most notably from Ben Smith, who has goals in his last two games and three total in this series. He tallied the crucial game-tying goal in the third period of Game 5 to force overtime; on Friday, he tallied a sneaky-smart goal, waiting out Quick on a line rush before stuffing into the net off the back of the netminder's pads. Smith has compiled a career-high four goals and six points in 18 playoff games this season after posting 26 points (14G, 12A) in 75 regular-season games..
5. WHERE THERE'S A WILLIAMS
With the Kings facing their third Game 7 of the 2014 postseason, they may be looking for a boost from veteran forward Justin Williams, who has never experienced a loss in six Game 7 tilts throughout a career spent with Philadelphia, Carolina and L.A. Incredible record aside, Williams has seemingly elevated his game on those occasions, collecting 12 points (6G, 6A). And despite playing mostly a depth role for the Kings this year, he played a crucial role in helping his team advance, posting an assist on the game-winning goal in Game 7 against San Jose, then opening the scoring and adding a helper in the 6-2 Game 7 romp over Anaheim. Williams has been effective this round, compiling a goal and four assists in six games so far.
THE FINAL WORD
A Game 7 is the pinnacle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, high stakes breeding high drama, leading both teams to unleash everything they have. The Blackhawks survived two elimination games to draw even with the Kings, and both were instant classics played at the highest of tempos, showcasing the best qualities of both teams. Chicago's best players over the last week -- Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, as well as a revamped blue line -- will again need to set the tone in the offensive zone, while still paying plenty of attention to the Kings' most dangerous individuals. The Blackhawks finally kept the Kings' 70s line off the scoresheet, but there are plenty of weapons -- including Game 7 guru Justin Williams -- that can and will fill that void. And neither goaltender has stolen a game yet, so look for both Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick to elevate their games as they try to backstop their teams to a coveted Stanley Cup Final berth.