The Boston Bruins have made the mistake of playing the last two games in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Philadelphia Flyers at a regular-season speed and intensity level. Now they're in the unenviable position of playing an impossible-to-predict Game 7 after squandering a 3-0 series lead.
The one thing we can predict is that the Bruins aren't going to prevail in the do-or-die game if these five players don't play much better than they did in Games 5 and 6:
1. Zdeno Chara
It's not that Chara has been bad; it's just that he has been pedestrian. And in the Bruins' system, Chara has to be extraordinary for the team to thrive. Chara has to own the area around the Boston net and cannot let Flyers center Mike Richards win the one-on-one battles. With the puck, Chara has to have better shot selection and take his massive slap shot a couple of times early on to discourage the Flyers from getting in the shooting lanes. Most of all, he has to set the tone with his play and physicality the way Richards has for Philly since Game 4.
I wouldn't be surprised if Bergeron is hurt. He has gotten slower as this series has worn on. And other than a post he hit late, he was nonexistent on offense in Game 6. He actually finished without an official shot on goal. Bergeron needs to produce in other areas the way he has at the faceoff dots and bear down defensively to prevent the Richards line with Simon Gagne and Daniel Carcillo from making plays uncontested in all three zones.
Coach Claude Julien is seemingly giving Wheeler one last chance to prove he can be a playoff power forward by putting him in a new spot next to Bergeron and Mark Recchi. Rarely has Wheeler played with a center other than David Krejci or Vladimir Sobotka. This line could have the team's best front-of-the-net presence, with Wheeler and Recchi both positioned at the top of the crease, but Wheeler's inconsistent willingness to pay the price could hold them back. Wheeler also is going to have to pick up his defensive game on the line Julien matches up with Philly's top three.
4. Marc Savard
It was great to see Savard return from injury and score that overtime goal in Game 1. But what have you done for me lately? Savard has been a giveaway and penalty machine over the course of the series and has been a nonfactor on Boston's impotent power play. He has to make better decisions with the puck and put the clamps on defensively regardless of whom he's on the ice against. Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan have to be set up to be effective, and there's no reason that shouldn't be happening while playing with Boston's would-be playmaker.
5. Tuukka Rask
Blasphemy, you say? Rask has been great in this series and may be the only reason the Bruins grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first place. He's kept the games tight despite a lack of offensive support. But I think he can be better. I think he can give the Bruins a Jaroslav Halak-like performance that causes the Flyers to hang their heads in disgust and allows the Bruins to win this game with just one lucky bounce or break. Rask has to strive for perfection and he might have to steal the game. In fact, if he can play a game for the ages, the rest of the Bruins on this list don't have to be that much better than they've been.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPN Boston and runs TheBruinsBlog.net. His first book, "100 Things Bruins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," will be published by Triumph Books in the fall and can be preordered here.