CHICAGO, Ill. – In something that hasn’t happened in a long time way before expansion, the last four Stanley Cup Champions are the ones that are left in the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins will face the Boston Bruins in the East Finals while the Los Angeles Kings will try to defend last years Championship as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Both teams have come up big in emotional Game 7 series in taking on their biggest regional rivals.
The schedule has the Kings coming in to face the Blackhawks in back to back games on Saturday and Sunday. That is how it worked out since the games are wedged in between two Rolling Stone concerts at the United Center. The ice didn’t seem too bad for the last game as it was played the day after the first concert of three.
The two teams played against each other three times this season with the first and only game in Los Angeles as the Staples Center came as a win for Chicago spoiling the opening night banner-raising festivities for the Kings. The two teams were able to split the other two games in Chicago. This will be the first time in 39 years that these two teams last met in the Playoffs as Chicago won that opening round series.
There isn’t one forward on the Kings that has had the Blackhawks number throughout their career. The most dangerous part is that any one of their players can put the puck in goal. In the season series, eight different players have scored a goal with Mike Richards the only one scoring two. Anze Kopitar throughout his career has the most points against the Blackhawks with 7 goals for 23 points in 25 tilts. What makes the Kings dangers is that on the four lines, any player can score at any given time. They may not score a lot of goals but timing is where it is at for the Kings. As for the Blackhawks, their depth has carried them through the first two rounds. But Chicago needs the production from their top two lines to get things going. Only now it seems like these star forwards are bringing it around at the right time. The regular season leading scorers in Jonathan Toews and Partrick Kane have only a combine three goals between them in the twelve games played in the playoffs. Center Patrick Sharp who leads the team with 7 goals scored only two against Detroit and they were the first and last games of the series. Both Sharp and Toews might be able to turn things around facing the Kings as both have had great success against the Kings. Los Angeles has their work cut out for them as the rank last out of the remaining four teams ranking on average of scoring two goals per game to Chicago’s 2.75
Chicago defense has pretty much been saved by either their defensive partner or the goaltender of Corey Crawford who has been standing on his head the last two rounds. Coach Joel Quenneville who late in the season got some great results in splitting up his top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but in the playoffs Seabrook got himself into the dog house and saw his numbers start to drop. So what Quenneville decided to do was reunite the pair and started to see some improvement in the play of all the defensive lines. In the final game against the Red Wings he couldn’t block the game tying goal but in overtime with a long distance deflected shot he scored the series winner in overtime which should boost his confidence going in against the Kings. If they play smart they should do alright. For Los Angeles, the top two defense pairs log well over 20 minutes per game as they are out there trying to help and make up for the lack of offense that the team has had in the playoffs. The two teams are number one and two on the goals against average in the playoffs.
Experience has a big stance for both of these teams. The King’s Jonathan Quick was the workhorse as they won it all last year. And for Corey Crawford, early in his career he was known for choking in the playoffs. The team had big shoes to fill after the team’s Stanley Cup win in 2010 as the team did not re-sign Antti Niemi . Crawford was a big part of the plan but this was his big breakout season as he and veteran Ray Emery set out on this season’s Presidents Trophy run. You really can’t split these two apart as they are the top two netminders in these playoffs. Crawford was exceptional in Game 7 against the team’s biggest rival and playing at home gave him a big boost as he was overwhelmed in the moment as the fans chanted his name during the in-stadium interview. One advantage here is that Crawford gets hurt or is struggling you have a top quality backup in Ray Emery who broke the record this season for most wins to start a season.
For both teams the power play has been lacking and for some it felt like the Hawks man-advantage was nonexistent but both are averaging at or below 20%. The Hawks are better at home and having home ice advantage will certainly help them. This bodes well for them as the Kings have been horrible on the road on the kill. The Hawks have been all but perfect on the penalty kill allowing only one goal on 41 total times while shorthanded.
Both coaches know what it takes to get the job done. They can make changes in game to get the best match ups and results. Darryl Sutter comes into familiar territory as he faces the team that he has played his whole NHL career. He also coached the Blackhawks and in the three years that he was head coach took the team into the playoffs getting as far as the third round. He and Quenneville both have Stanley Cup Championships recently with Sutter taking the team all the way last season.
What can you say about these two teams, each one can get hot at any moment. It is so hard to say that either will turn cold, it will be who that can turn the thermostat even higher. The Kings are overall and even keel team that does just enough to etch out a win but the Hawks have the guns and scoring to win it all. But they will need their stars to kick it up and make that presence known and hopefully that emotional win against Detroit, and more importantly… at home can bring them to that next step. Jonathan Quick is the key for the Kings if they want to get far but for either side it will be the special teams is what will carry the Chicago Blackhawks to the Finals.