WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his take on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run as well as predictions on the rest of the NHL
In one corner it is Hollywood and in the other its the City of Broad Shoulders — L.A. vs. Chicago, two cities that contrast mightily, but who have each shared great success recently in the NHL, winning the last two Stanley Cup Championships.
For the second consecutive season, these cities and their beloved hockey franchises, respectively the Kings and Blackhawks, are battling out for the right to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Last year’s series was epic and challenging for the Hawks as they made their way to a second Stanley Cup in four seasons, dethroning the-then defending champs. This year the Hawks have survived challenges from St. Louis and Minnesota, each in six game series, while the Kings overcame the San Jose Sharks in an historic seven-game series where L.A. overcame an 0-3 start. The Kings would go down as the first team since 2010 (Montreal) and only the sixth franchise in NHL history to win two Game 7’s on the road in a postseason after knocking off Anaheim to wrap up their semifinal series.
Both teams have depth along with veteran experience so who has the edge? Who’s special teams will rise and whose goaltender’s play in net will make most difference? Let’s take a look.
After last year’s performance in the series against the Kings, which included four goals and a hat trick performance in Game 5 to clinch the series, Patrick Kane is one of the players I’m spotlighting for the Hawks. During this past regular season against the Kings, Kane netted two goals along with two assists. It’s as simple as this, when the pressure is on, Kane usually delivers as in the game-winning goal from Game 6 to clinch the Minnesota series. Another player that I’m expecting to step up is Bryan Bickell. Last year’s conference finals was a coming out party for Bickell, who exploited the Kings’ defense-first style of play, it allowing Bickell to cause traffic in front of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and create second chances for his teammates. Bickell has six goals so far in these playoffs, I expect that total to go up in this series.
A lot has changed for the Kings since their loss to the Hawks last spring. L.A.’s players are healthier than they were last year and their roster is the better after picking up Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the last trade deadline, he has sort of transformed the team into a scoring machine.
Gaborik leads the team in goals scored this postseason with nine in total, including two memorable goals in Game 1 vs. Anaheim including the game-winner in overtime. Gaborik’s presence has trickled down to his teammates, among them Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams — all are expected to contribute scoring wise to keep pace with the Hawks as they did late in the series with Anaheim. Here’s a stat to keep in mind: during their historic comeback versus San Jose, the Kings outscored the Sharks by a 18-5 margin. The Kings aren’t the Hawks offensively, but for a defensive-minded team they do have scoring threats, and they’ve managed to score over 3.2 goals a game in the playoffs.
The Hawks’ 2.25 goals against average in the postseason has been one of the league’s best. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are capable of shutting down the Kings top two scoring lines. Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy will be responsible for keeping the Kings’ third and fourth lines at bay while helping out Corey Crawford defensively.
The Kings are led by Drew Doughty, an offensively-capable defensman with 8 assists this postseason. Doughty can also lay out a big hit to lift up the physical play of his team. Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz are expected to help out Doughty and try to shutdown the Hawks’ top scoring lines. Injuries to Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell make all their performances more vital.
Corey Crawford has been stellar for the Hawks with a 1.97 Goals Against Average and an 8-4 record. Making clutch saves is what Crawford is all about and that quality was on display in Game 6 against the Wild when the Hawks weren’t at their best overall. Crawford’s teammates must help him clear out pucks and not turn it over while limiting the Kings’ second chance opportunities, but even if all that doesn’t go as planned, Crow has proven he has what it takes to make a game his to control.
Stats may be deceiving for the Kings’ star goalie Jonathan Quick (8-6 record, 2.72 Goals Against Average) as his play has picked up in the wake of the San Jose series. Quick is a former Conn Smythe trophy winner (2012) with championship experience and last year’s performance against the Hawks was below his standards only because of fatigue and his recovering from a back injury the previous year.
Playoff Stats — Special Teams
Power Play Percentage: Kings — 22.9 (7th in NHL); Hawks — 18.2 (8th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: Kings — 83.9% (8th in NHL); Hawks — 91.3% (1st in NHL)
Playoff Stats — Team Leaders
Points: Marian Hossa (11); Goals: Patrick Kane (6); Assists: Marian Hossa (9); Penalty Minutes: Brent Seabrook (17); Goals Against Average: Corey Crawford (1.97)
What To Expect
This series will come down to goaltending and special teams.
Role players play big parts in the playoffs and for the Kings, their potential X-factors include Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, Dwight King and Tanner Pearson, all of whom will be called upon to ramp up their defensive style.
Brandon Saad, Ben Smith, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Kris Versteeg and Peter Regin must help out the top two lines for the Hawks and keep the Kings off the scoreboard when called upon. Goaltending is about even and the ultimate difference will likely be the skill of the Hawks staying consistent while being challenged by the physical play of the Kings.
With a deeper team roster than it had a year ago, the Kings will pose a threat but I don’t think that they can keep up scoring if the Hawks remain on their game. This series should be an interesting one and a fun one to watch.
Prediction: Hawks in six.
The Road Ahead (Series Schedule)
Game 1: Today, 2 PM CT (NBC)
Game 2: Wednesday, 7 PM CT (NBCSN)
Game 3: May 24, at Los Angeles, 7 PM CT (NBC)
Game 4: May 26, at Los Angeles, 8 PM CT (NBCSN)
Game 5: May 28th, 7 PM CT (NBCSN)*
Game 6: May 30th, at Los Angeles, 8 PM CT (NBCSN)*
Game 7: June 1, 7 PM CT (NBCSN)*
*= If Necessary
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