NHL Playoffs 2014: Western Conference Final Preview – Chicago Blackhawks vs Los Angeles Kings
SERIES BEGINS: 18th May
PUCK DROP: 15:00 ET (20:00 GMT)
BY THE NUMBERS
|WON LAST ROUND IN…||6 games||7 games|
|35 / 27
|45 / 37
|TOP POINT SCORER
(M. HOSSA &
|TOP GOAL SCORER
(P. KANE &
|TOTAL 5v5 SV%||92.7%
(6th in NHL)
(10th in NHL)
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS ROUND 2 LOWDOWN:
The Hawks can consider themselves fortunate to have made it through the Divisional Final against the Minnesota Wild: they were frequently outplayed and outpossessed over the series. In the end, the difference was the Hawks’ proven game-breakers like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom came through with crucial goals at critical times; and Corey Crawford, who had a superb series (and more on him in a little while).
Coach Quenneville hit his famous line-blender hard and often as he fought for matchups and pairings that would break the tenacious Wild down. There has been some shuffling of personnel: Andrew Shaw is still hurt and will not play in Game 1, Kris Versteeg & Jeremy Morin have been in and out of the team and Brandon Bollig was suspended for two games for boarding; this saw Peter Regin come into the team and excel.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS PLAYER TO WATCH:
Corey Crawford is playing some of the best Hockey of his life right now. His .931 Sv% is the best in the Postseason and he has looked calm and in control under a lot of pressure, both in terms of shots and bodies crashing his crease, which will stand him in good stead against the Kings and their forecheck. If Crawford stays this hot, then it’s hard to see the Kings living with the Hawks for six or seven games.
LOS ANGELES KINGS ROUND 2 LOWDOWN:
The Kings have had, by far, the toughest route to the Conference Final of any team still in contention. They went through both of the other Californians; first the fancied Sharks and then the #1 Seed in the West, the Ducks. Both of these series were won without home-ice advantage and both went seven games.
The Kings are building up a head of steam again, and if they’re not the unstoppable juggernaut of two years ago, then they are still a formidable outfit headed to their 3rd successive WCF.
As usual, they have a huge and aggressive forecheck but, with the deadline acquisition of Marian Gaborik and Tyler Toffoli developing into a fine player, they have added to their offensive potential. Jonathan Quick is in excellent form after a shaky start against San Jose, posting a 0.936 Sv% against Anaheim. Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the league right now and is playing superbly.
LOS ANGELES KINGS PLAYER TO WATCH:
In last year’s WCF Anze Kopitar was not at full health and was a non-entity, by his standards. That is not the case this year. The Slovene is the points-leader in this postseason (19), is playing big minutes and is cementing his reputation as being one of the very best two-way forwards in the game.
An interesting stat is that he has drawn the most penalties (among still-active players) with nine in this playoffs, which suggests that teams are struggling to contain him. The Kings like to play their best defense 200 feet from their own net, and Kopitar is a big part of that. Kopitar vs his fellow-Selke-nominee Toews should be a battle of epic proportions.
Even when the big, bad Bruins were scaring everyone witless, the only team that I (as a Hawks fan) was truly frightened of was the Kings. That remains the case. Trying to predict this series is almost impossible: there are a lot of keys and variables. I will be fascinated by Crawford vs Quick (whose career stats are remarkably similar), Toews vs Kopitar, the Kings forecheck vs Hjalmarsson & Oduya (who they will be attempting to turn into smears of Swede on the endboards!).
If I had to think of the keys, one is going to be fatigue: the Kings have played 14 games to get to this point, including coming back from 0-3 against the Sharks. While the Hawks haven’t exactly cruised through their opening rounds, they haven’t had to hit top gear yet. In a series that is likely to be decided by the slimmest of margins, that could be a difference. But you have two worthy finalists going at it here, and all outcomes are possible.
Hawks in six, again.
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