The 2014 NHL playoffs have lived up to the expectations, and hockey fans are now focused on the schedule for the Western Conference Final between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
After a double-overtime thriller in Game 5 that brought Chicago back from the dead—the team now trails 3-2 in the series—the Western Conference Final shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 6.
For the fans desperate to catch the next game on Friday (or even the possible Game 7 that would take place on Sunday), here is the remainder of the schedule and the prediction for which team advances to the Stanley Cup Final.
|2014 Western Conference Schedule|
|1||Blackhawks beat Kings, 3-1||May 18||3 p.m.||NBC|
|2||Kings beat Blackhawks, 6-2||May 21||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Kings beat Blackhawks, 4-3||May 24||8 p.m.||NBC|
|4||Kings beat Blackhawks, 5-2||May 26||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||Blackhawks beat Kings, 5-4||May 28||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|6||Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings||May 30||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|7*||Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks||June 1||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Source: NHL.com. *If necessary|
Western Conference Final Breakdown
The matchup on paper between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks looked exciting before the series began, but few fans could have seen the roller coaster of emotion coming through the first five games.
After Chicago took the 1-0 series lead by winning Game 1 in dominant fashion, Los Angeles bounced back in resilient fashion and rattled off three consecutive victories. Led by the Kings' high-powered offensive unit, Los Angeles outscored the Blackhawks 15-7 during the three-game winning streak.
Amy Lawrence of CBS Sports talked about the offensive depth of the Kings:
Then trailing 3-1, the series shifted back to Chicago and a crowd at the United Center ready to explode for its hometown heroes. Feeding off the noise inside the building to start Game 5, both teams racked up a combined five goals in the first 13 minutes and 16 seconds of the game.
The Kings bounced back in the second period with two unanswered goals and started the third with the one-goal advantage. It was Blackhawks role player Ben Smith who tied the game just over a minute into the third period. The score remained tied through the remainder of the third, and the game was forced into overtime.
After 20 full minutes of overtime action weren't enough to settle the score, Chicago and Los Angeles came out in the second overtime and wasted little time ending the action. NHL journeyman Michal Handzus scored the game-winning goal just 2:04 into the second overtime.
While Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane was unable to score a goal, he racked up four assists in Game 5 and will look to carry that offensive momentum into Game 6 and possibly Game 7.
Los Angeles forward Jarret Stoll told Scott Burnside of ESPN.com about his perception of Game 5:
It's not easy, it's never going to be easy, especially against the defending champions and a team that's won and knows how to win. No one said it would be easy. It's a good hockey game, it's a great hockey game. Anytime you get double overtime and two good teams going at it, it's going to be a great hockey game. At points there we were like, 'Jeez, maybe get a cover here?' But it's good hockey for the fans, they were into it, both teams were into it and it was fun.
For the Kings, the team must end the series in six games.
Game 6 will see Chicago traveling to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. With the clear home-ice advantage, it is imperative that every player on the Kings roster understands how important it is to avoid playing a Game 7.
If the Blackhawks win on Friday, the team would have a two-game winning streak heading into the potential Game 7 and would be in front of its home crowd.
Los Angeles can’t let Chicago win on Friday.
Led by elite goaltender Jonathan Quick and top defenseman Drew Doughty, the Kings must get back to basics in the defensive zone and avoid the costly mistakes that Chicago does not miss capitalizing on.
Quick may have made 40 saves in Game 5, but the five goals he allowed killed the hope of ending the season without too much of a fight from their opponents. In Game 6, the Blackhawks will be fighting harder than ever.
With more depth at the forward positions and Corey Crawford continuing to be shaky at times, Los Angeles must focus on its defensive game plan and make sure Quick is in the right mindset for ending this series on Friday.
If the Kings play hard for 60 minutes, they will win the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. If LA loses, though, Chicago will have the momentum needed to win the series in seven games.
Predicted Series Winner: Los Angeles, 4-2
*Stats via NHL.com.