Kings vs. Blackhawks: Biggest Takeaways from 2014 Western Conference Final
The Kings now advance to the Stanley Cup Final to face the New York Rangers. It is the second trip to the SCF in three years for the Kings, who won the franchise's first championship in 2012.
This was a very evenly matched and well-played series between the past two Stanley Cup winners.
In the end, it took seven games to settle the series, with two of those contests going to overtime.
Here is a look at the biggest takeaways from the Western Conference Final. Feel free to comment on any of the issues discussed here or add one of your own. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.
The Kings Showed Resiliency
The Los Angeles Kings showed resiliency in Game 7. They didn't panic when they fell behind early in the game 2-0.
The Blackhawks also held leads of 3-2 and 4-3, but the Kings got the tying goal from Marian Gaborik with a little over seven minutes remaining in the third period and the game-winner from Alec Martinez in overtime.
The Kings also refused to panic when they were forced into a Game 7. Los Angeles led the series 3-1, but lost a pair of one-goal games to a determined Blackhawks club in Games 5 and 6.
Chicago clearly had the momentum going into Game 7 and also had home-ice advantage. However, the Kings remained confident enough to pull off a victory in the seventh and deciding game.
The Blackhawks showed plenty of resiliency, too, but in the end, the Kings were one goal better.
Both Coaches Were at the Top of Their Games
Chicago's Joel Quenneville and Los Angeles' Darryl Sutter are two of the best coaches in the NHL, and they showed it throughout this series.
It was fun listening to Sutter's brief and clever quips during postgame press conferences, but it was even better watching each coach match lines throughout the series as they tried to gain the slightest advantage that would earn their team a win.
In the first two games in Chicago, Quenneville matched up Jonathan Toews on Anze Kopitar when he had the last change in an attempt to slow down the Kings' top center. It worked in Game 1, less so in Game 2.
Midway through the series, the Kings had a big advantage when "That 70s Line" of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson worked its magic.
Meanwhile, in Game 6, Quenneville put together a line of Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad. That worked well enough to earn Chicago a big win to force a Game 7, as Kane scored twice and added an assist to pace the Chicago attack.
In Game 7, the two coaches again changed their line combinations mid-game as each side vied for an edge.
The chess match between two of the game's best coaches was yet another added bonus in this fine series.
Neither Goalie Was at His Best
Both Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick are Stanley Cup-winning goalies who have proven they are capable of rising to the occasion and leading their teams to a championship.
Despite the excellence of both goaltenders, neither played his best in this series.
In seven games, the Blackhawks and Kings combined for 51 goals, or an average of 7.3 combined goals per game.
Los Angeles scored 28 goals in the series while Chicago added 23. That means that both goalies gave up more than three goals per game.
Both Quick and Crawford played well at times and both came up with some outstanding saves, but there were just too many odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances over the course of the series for their statistics to be outstanding.
This was not a series dominated by goaltenders, it was a series primarily controlled by the highly skilled and hard-working offensive stars on both teams.
Neither Quick nor Crawford were at their best, but they both played well enough to win four games for their team over the course of this series.
The Kings Are a Much Better Offensive Team Since Acquiring Marian Gaborik
The Los Angeles Kings scored 28 goals in this series—an average of four per game.
Over the course of the entire playoffs thus far, no team is averaging more offense than the Kings, who have scored 3.48 goals per game. San Jose is second at 3.14 GPG.
During the regular season, Los Angeles often struggled to score goals. In fact, the Kings ranked 26th in the league with just 2.42 goals per game.
One of the big differences was the acquisition of veteran winger Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline. Gaborik gave the Kings something they have lacked in recent years: a pure sniper and goal scorer.
Gaborik leads all skaters in the playoffs this year with 12 goals. The result has been increased offensive production for the Kings. Four of the league's top five scoring leaders in the playoffs play for Los Angeles.
Even if opponents slow down Gaborik, his addition gives the team more offensive depth up and down its lineup, which makes it tougher for opposing coaches to find favorable matchups.
Gaborik has been a difference-maker for the Kings in this series and throughout the playoffs.
This Was 1 of the Best Series in NHL History
The last two Stanley Cup champions went head-to-head in this series and certainly didn't disappoint.
Four of the seven games were settled by one goal, two of them went into overtime and nearly every game was competitive.
There were enough momentum changes and ebbs and flows to each game in this series that it was clear anybody could have won it.
Perhaps the best part of this series was that even neutral viewers had to mesmerized by the high quality of play both teams exhibited throughout the series.
In a losing cause, players like Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith played outstanding hockey.
Meanwhile, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty and Justin Williams played exceptionally well for the Kings.
This may have been a showcase of the two best teams in the league, and they both certainly played like it.