Who will be the star of Game 7?


CHICAGO -- So much ground covered, so much emotion expended, so little decided.

That is the beauty of this pitched battle between the two best teams left in the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings.

The last two Stanley Cup champions have gone hammer and tong through six games, and the only thing resolved is that fans have been treated to a veritable feast of hockey at the highest level.

The only good thing about the teams having to pack up and fly east to Chicago for Sunday's deciding game is that it gives fans -- and, heck, even the media -- a chance to exhale.

The heavyweight boxing analogy gets thrown around in playoff series quite often. But in this case, it fits. The Hawks opened the series with a win, then lost three in a row before shocking the Kings with two dramatic come-from-behind wins in Games 5 and 6. And the punch-counterpunch nature of this series has truly been revealed in almost every game as a testament to both teams' incredible resiliency and depth.

Both teams have scored first and lost, the Hawks managing it twice in Games 2 and 3. The Kings have blown third-period leads in the past two games. The power play has waxed and waned. There have been goaltending highlights and lowlights, turnovers and long periods of breathtaking up-and-down action.

"You can feel it's high-level hockey that's playing, that's for sure. They're bringing it every game, they're a machine-like team. They bring the same effort every single game," Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said after the Blackhawks returned to Chicago late Saturday afternoon.

"We just have to try to match that, and I really think this series deserved a Game 7, and I think the crowd deserved it, too. And I think it's going to be a great finish to a great series. And hopefully we'll be the winner out of this one, but it's been some really good hockey that's been playing in these games, definitely."

If you're looking for patterns that might help decipher who will emerge to play the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals starting Wednesday, they will be difficult to unearth -- although it is pretty compelling that the Blackhawks are now 13-0 in Games 5, 6 and 7 the past two springs.

On the other hand, the Kings are an impressive 6-0 when facing elimination this spring, and they outscored San Jose and Anaheim 11-3 in their two previous Game 7s. So something's got to give, no?

But to help sort through what might unfold Sunday, here are eight players who could impact the outcome of what has evolved into a classic playoff clash between two NHL powers.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

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