-- It all comes down to this: Game 7 for the Eastern Conference Finals.
It's only appropriate that this intriguing series end with a winner-take-all affair Friday night at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS).
Through the first six games, the storylines and plot twists have been never-ending. Now, the story comes to its exciting conclusion in 60 minutes -- maybe more -- of nail-biting and nerve-wracking play from two teams hoping to advance to the Stanley Cup Final and face the Vancouver Canucks
in a series that will start Wednesday in the Pacific Northwest.
But before we reach the last page of the last chapter of this enchanting story in the Eastern Conference Finals, there are still questions to be answered. Here are six of the biggest questions heading into Friday night's game:
1. Can the Bruins embrace the pressure of a second Game 7 at the Garden this postseason?
They better. Boston's recent history in Game 7s has not been good, but they believe they turned the corner with the first-round Game 7 win against Montreal in OT. The Canadiens have caused Boston more misery than any other team in the playoffs, but somehow Boston found a way to win a game that it tried to give away. Now, the Bruins must do the same against a Tampa Bay team that is flying high after a Game 6 rally.
"You have the butterflies in your stomach, but, again, you don't want to be afraid of the challenge," forward Milan Lucic
said. "You want to go out there and embrace the challenge."
2. Will Boston's power play find its way and save the day?
Believe it or not, it could. Despite being just 5-for-61 so far in this postseason, three of those goals have come in this series against Tampa Bay, including one from David Krejci
in Game 6. Plus, the Bruins have trotted out a new wrinkle, placing big-bodied defenseman Zdeno Chara
as a net-front presence, and it has caused a fair amount of trouble for the Lightning.
"(The power play) is an important piece of the puzzle," forward Mark Recchi
said. "We have an opportunity in one game to erase all the junk that we've done in, really, the last three or four months."
3. Will Boston make any lineup changes for Game 7?
It's unlikely, but not impossible.
"Everybody wants to play at this stage of the season," Boston coach Claude Julien
said, addressing a question about changing his lineup. "All I can say is give you the same answer I've given every other time. We'll have 23 guys out there (for warmups) tonight, and you'll have to wait until game time."
Probably the only move that Julien will even entertain is drafting rugged forward Shawn Thornton
back into the lineup. He doesn't need Thornton's ruggedness, per se, but perhaps his veteran influence. After a dynamic start to the series, rookie Tyler Seguin
's play has flat-lined a bit and this would be his first Game 7 if he plays. Still, it appears Seguin's dynamic skills will win the day Friday, but we won't find out until warm-ups.
4. Can Dwayne Roloson regain his top form?
Roloson rolled through the first two rounds of this postseason, posting the best save percentage and goals-against average in the League to that point. His play in this series against the Bruins has been inconsistent. He's been pulled twice and didn't play in Game 5, ceding his spot to backup Mike Smith
. Still, Roloson is 7-0 in postseason elimination games in his career, and he's 4-for-4 in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa Bay might not need him to pitch a 36-save shutout like he did in Game 7 against Pittsburgh, but something better than the 4 goals on 20 shots performance in Game 6 against the Bruins would be welcome.
5. Will Tampa Bay dominate the special teams battle again?
The Bruins were one of the best teams in the League at even strength, and that has carried over into this postseason. Special teams has been an equalizer for the Lightning this season, and it was never more evident than in Game 6 when they struck three times on the power play. Boston also scored an extra-man goal, but the Lightning's penalty killers have won that skirmish for much of this series. The two games in this series that weren't high-scoring affairs were the two contests that Tampa Bay's work with the man advantage was most lacking. If the Lightning can click on the power play while keeping the Bruins at bay when down a man, Tampa Bay can win this game even if Boston is the better team at even strength.
6. Will Sean Bergenheim be available?
says Bergenheim has improved in his attempt to come back from an injury that occurred in Game 5 and kept him out of Game 6, but he remains "doubtful" for Friday night. Bergenheim did skate Friday morning in full gear -- something he didn't do before Game 6. Tampa Bay's third line, with Bergenheim, Dominic Moore
and Steve Downie
, has been the team's best at times and tipped the balance of power up front against deep teams like Washington and even Boston earlier in this series. If Bergenheim does play, he could give the Lightning an emotional lift. If he doesn't they will have to look elsewhere for heroics. Teddy Purcell
has filled Bergenheim's role of "secondary" scoring with a team-leading 5 goals in this series. Downie also had an excellent Game 6 with two assists. Steven Stamkos
said the team has had different people step up all season -- the Lightning might need more of that Friday night.