(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (5) Los Angeles Kings
If there was any doubt that the Chicago Blackhawks would not be able to handle adversity when they finally came face-to-face with it, it’s gone now. The Blackhawks got off to a 21-0-3 start to the 2013 campaign and consequently their regular season was devoid of any real must-win games.
And yet, when the Detroit Red Wings – who had to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs – took a 3-1 series lead, the Presidents’ Trophy winners buckled down. Even when they had thought they won Game 7 with mere minutes left in the third, only for the goal to be waved off by the officials, Chicago remained focused and eliminated Detroit in overtime.
Right now Chicago’s stars, complimentary players, and goaltender Corey Crawford are all clicking – and they’ll need nothing less if they are to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Western Conference finals.
The Los Angeles Kings won a tight series against the San Jose Sharks in the second round and as big a help as Crawford has been for Chicago, the edge has to go to Kings netminder Jonathan Quick. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has been absolutely outstanding in this playoff run and he’s backed by a superb team that will likely get under the Blackhawks’ skin.
Although the Kings haven’t been an offensive force in their playoff run, they certainly have the tools to do so. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar can match the Blackhawks’ top forwards. Meanwhile Dustin Brown is a big x-factor for Los Angeles. He’s been a physical presence on the ice, but was anemic offensively in the first two rounds. If he can bounce back offensively, he might prove to be the difference in this series.
That being said, the Kings and Blackhawks are also two of the deepest teams in the league and consequently almost anyone could be the hero. We should be in for another seven game series, but in the end, I think Quick will outduel Crawford.
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Viktor Stalberg
Marcus Kruger-Dave Bolland-Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brent Seabrook-Nick Leddy
Johnny Oduya-Michal Rozsival
Marian Hossa was a big part of the Blackhawks’ comeback against the Red Wings with a goal and four points in his last three games. Chicago is 7-1 in games where Hossa has recorded a point in the playoffs and 1-3 in the remaining contests.
Brandon Saad broke out this season with 10 goals and 27 points in 46 contests, but he hasn’t found the same kind of success in the playoffs. He has no goals and just two assists in 12 postseason games.
Chicago has made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
The only time they previously faced the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs was 1974 when they beat them in five games. They also had a 2-1 record against the Kings in the regular season.
Chicago has killed a league-high 97.6% of its playoff penalties. Meanwhile the Kings have a strong 20% power-play success rate in the postseason.
Kyle Clifford-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dustin Penner-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dwight King-Trevor Lewis-Dustin Brown
Brad Richardson-Colin Fraser-Tyler Toffoli
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi-Slava Voynov
Jake Muzzin-Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last five games. Overall, he has a 1.50 GAA and .948 save percentage in the playoffs, which is almost identical to his 2012 postseason numbers when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Dustin Brown was a critical piece of the Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup run with eight goals and 20 points in 20 playoff contests. This time around he has three goals and just four points in 13 contests.
Jarret Stoll sustained a concussion in Game 1 of the second round and hasn't played since. He has started to practice with the Kings, but of course every player takes a different path to recovery from a concussion, so attempting to predict his availability would be a losing battle. That being said, it is safe to assume defenseman Willie Mitchell will not play in the Western Conference finals.
This is the first time in the Kings’ franchise history that they have made it to at least the Western Conference finals in back-to-back seasons. However, Darryl Sutter has made it at least that far in three of the last four seasons he's served as a head coach.
No team has won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.