The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks are the last two teams from the Western Conference to win the Stanley Cup. The Kings are the defending champs, having won their first Cup in franchise history last year. The Blackhawks won it all in 2010, ending a 49-year drought.
To get here, the Kings won the battle of California over the San Jose Sharks in what was a closely contested seven-game series. The Blackhawks’ second-round series also went the distance. They managed to come back from being down 3-1 versus the Detroit Red Wings and win Game 7 in overtime.
The Blackhawks won the season series 2-1 over the Kings, with one of their victories coming on the first day of the lockout-shortened season.
With that said, this series should be a long one, featuring plenty of skill, physicality and most importantly, great goaltending.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Game 1: Saturday, June 1 at Chicago, 5:00 p.m. ET NBCSN, TSN
Game 2: Sunday, June 2 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m. ET NBCSN, TSN
Game 3: Tuesday, June 4 at Los Angeles, 9:00 p.m. ET NBCSN, TSN
Game 4: Thursday, June 6 at Los Angeles, 9:00 p.m. ET NBCSN, CBC
Game 5*: Saturday, June 8 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m. ET NBC, CBC
Game 6*: Monday, June 10, at Los Angeles, 9:00 p.m. ET NBCSN, CBC
Game 7*: Wednesday, June 12 at Chicago, TBD NBCSN, CBC
Playoffs Goals For
Kings: 2.00, ranked 11th.
Blackhawks: 2.75, ranked 6th.
The Kings’ forwards have a significant advantage in terms of size and physicality, while the Blackhawks have four lines littered with speed and playmaking ability.
Jeff Carter has continued where he left off in the regular season and leads the team with five goals in the playoffs. He and Mike Richards are now joined by Dustin Penner on the Kings’ second line, which has been by far their best in the playoffs.
Richards leads the team with 10 points in the postseason, although he's winning slightly less than 50 percent of his draws.
Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown haven’t been nearly as dominant as they were in last year’s playoffs and will likely need to play a bigger role in this series.
The Blackhawks have had contributions from a few unlikely players thus far in the playoffs. Bryan Bickell, for example, has scored five times including one overtime goal. While youngsters Andrew Shaw and Michael Frolik have each scored three times.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have combined for just three goals so far and like Kopitar and Brown, they will need to have a bigger impact in this series. Toews was visibly frustrated at times versus the Red Wings, while Kane had trouble generating scoring chances.
That said, both forwards played much better in Games 6 and 7 versus Detroit.
Playoff Goals Against
Kings: 1.54, ranked 1st.
Blackhawks: 1.83, ranked 2nd.
There is no lack of depth on defense for either team.
Alec Martinez is a perfect example of that. After appearing in every playoff game for the Kings last year, Martinez has suited up just six times in these playoffs.
Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr have made a solid top pairing. Doughty averages over 27 minutes per game, far more than any other player on the team. He’s recorded five points and managed to play tough without stepping over the line. Regehr has recorded 26 hits and 14 blocked shots in his first trip to the postseason since 2008.
Slava Voynov continues to impress, leading all Kings’ blueliners with seven points and a plus-seven rating.
The Kings’ defensemen will need to play physical below the goal line and effectively clear the zone in order to have success against Chicago’s forwards.
The Blackhawks have used the same six defensemen for all 12 of their playoff games and each blueliner has at least 11 blocked shots.
Averaging over 24 minutes of ice time, Duncan Keith has been strong at both ends of the ice and leads Chicago’s blue line with nine points. Brent Seabrook, who perhaps was dealing with an undisclosed injury, wasn’t himself throughout much of the playoffs and had his ice time reduced as a result. However, he’s stepped up in the last couple games and even scored the series-winning goal in overtime to eliminate the Wings.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy make up the rest of Chicago’s blue line, which will face the tough task of clearing traffic from in front of Corey Crawford.
Jonathan Quick: 8-5 with a .948 save percentage, 1.50 GAA and three shutouts.
Corey Crawford: 8-4 with a .938 save percentage, 1.70 GAA and one shutout.
Simply put, these are the two best netminders in the playoffs thus far.
Quick had an average regular season in comparison to his performance in last year’s playoffs. However, the 27-year-old American has quickly returned to that elite level of play and is a Conn Smythe candidate once again.
With that said, this should be Quick’s toughest challenge yet, as he faces a team loaded with offensive talent.
Corey Crawford may have been seen as a potential weak spot for the Blackhawks heading into the playoffs. Not for his play in the regular season, as both he and Ray Emery were brilliant, but for his lack of playoff success.
Instead, Crawford has become one of the team's most important players through two rounds. The 28-year-old Montreal native may even steal a game or two against the Kings.
Kings: 20 percent, ranked 7th.
Blackhawks: 16.2 percent, ranked 10th.
Kings: 86.0 percent, ranked 5th.
Blackhawks: 97.6 percent, ranked 1st.
For the Kings, who have had trouble scoring, the power play will be crucial in this series. As for their penalty kill, it needs to better on the road. Their PK has allowed five goals on the road and just one at home.
As a playermaker on the power play and a smart, gritty penalty killer, look for Mike Richards to play a key role on special teams.
Chicago is the only team remaining that hasn’t scored a shorthanded goal, although that doesn’t matter much when your penalty kill is nearly perfect. The Blackhawks will try to maintain that success while jump starting a power play that's been mediocre for much of this year.
Marian Hossa leads the way with three power play goals, but look for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to be better on the man advantage in this series.
It may be the most difficult series of the playoffs to predict.
These are two teams with tremendous depth, who play different styles. We should expect to see a little bit of everything, from highlight reel goals to some of the hardest hits of the year.
Not to mention a few great press conferences from both Joel Quenneville and Daryl Sutter.
Ultimately goaltending will be the difference maker and I expect Jonathan Quick to be slightly better when it matters most.
The Kings will eliminate the Blackhawks in seven games, to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for a second consecutive year.