By Allan Muir
Over the next few hours, 120 players will walk into a dressing room ahead of a Game 7 showdown and wonder, "Is this my night?"
This is the stuff that every player dreams about from the moment he first picks up a stick. Everything on the line, everyone watching, no tomorrow. Someone has to be a hero. Why not me?
It's not always the player we expect who ends up carving his name into hockey history, but that's the beauty of Game 7. It could be anyone.
Here are six players ready to make this moment his own:
New York Rangers: Martin St. Louis
Last-minute NHL trade deadline acquisitions are flaming out all over the place (Ryan Miller Blues jerseys, 50 percent off in St. Louis!), so it would be nice if someone stepped up and proved that a bold strike at the deadline can still pay dividends. St. Louis has alternated between good and invisible in this series, but he has the composure born of big-game experience to seize this opportunity and lead the Blueshirts into the second round.
Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Mason
For the first time since, oh, Kate Smith was a playoff regular at the Spectrum, the Flyers are winning games because of their goalie rather than in spite of him. Mason has posted a 1.95 GAA and a .939 save percentage in four games since coming back from injury, getting the better of New York's Henrik Lundqvist and leading Philadelphia to a deciding Game 7. One more grand effort is hardly a stretch.
The Calder Trophy favorite was a non-factor in Minnesota, but now that the series has returned to Denver, it's time for Big Game Nate to take charge. MacKinnon, who always seems to inflate his performance to match the size of the stage, has 10 points to show for his three home dates in this series, including the OT winner in Game 5. This kid is feeling it right now.
A 30-goal scorer during the regular season, Pominville has been held to one empty-netter in this series. With 18 shots (third on the team), he's been involved--he just hasn't had the puck luck. That could change tonight, especially if he keeps his feet moving. He's dynamite off the rush.
Was going to go with Brent Burns here (27 shots, second in the NHL), but now that we know that Niemi is starting, this one falls squarely on his shoulders. There's more than just a second round date with the Ducks at stake here. Coach Todd McLellan's job is rumored to be on the line, so going with a struggling goalie who currently ranks 14th out of 15 playoff netminders in both GAA and save percentage means Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010, needs to reward his faith with a superlative performance. It would help if Niemi makes a couple of big stops off the hop and prevents the Kings from getting the early lead that makes them so dangerous.
Who else? Williams has played in four Game 7s, and is the first player in NHL history to score a goal in each of his first four such appearances (5-4-9 totals). He's really shown some jump since being moved off the top line to the third alongside Jarret Stoll, scoring four times in those three games including twice in Game 6. No reason that ball can't keep rolling.
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