Middletown, N. J. – The Western conference was on a bit of a delay in getting their finalists set as both quarter-final series went the 7 game distance. All the Eastern finalists, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, could do is sit back, rest and recuperate. Each of those teams will have a week off before they start their battle at Consol Energy Center Saturday.
At the end of the day, the top seeded Chicago Blackhawks prevailed in a hard-fought series, clipping the Red Wings in overtime of game seven when Brent Seabrook wristed a shot that was deflected past Jimmy Howard. This after the NHL almost had a full-blown officiating mess on its hands as the stripes continue to try their best to decide some of the most important games of the season.
The Kings, defending their first ever Stanley Cup championship won last season over the New Jersey Devils, overcame a frantic push in the game’s final five minutes to defeat and eliminate the San Jose Sharks, winning game seven by a 2-1 score. Jonathan Quick proved that last season’s Conn Smythe award was no fluke, at times looking more like Gumby : stretching and reaching to impossible angles to make amazing saves. The stop with 3 minutes to go on Joe Pavelski will be on post-season highlight reels for a long time.
The NHL is looking forward to the media attention that the two conference final series are almost certainly bound to get. With the last 4 Stanley Cup champions participating and 3 intense hockey hotbeds representing should make for some interesting and widespread coverage.
- Sat, June 1 @ Chicago 5pmEST
- Sun, June 2 @ Chicago 8pm EST
- Tues, June 4 @ Los Angeles 9pm EST
- Thu, June 6 @ Los Angeles 9pm EST
- Sat, June 8 @ Chicago 8pm EST (If necessary)
- Mon, June 10 @ Los Angeles 9pm EST (If necessary)
- Wed, June 12 @ Chicago TBD (If necessary)
- Jan 19 – Blackhawks 5, Kings 2
- Feb 17 – Blackhawks 3, Kings 2
- Mar 25 – Kings 5, Blackhawks 4
Why The Kings Can Win
The defending Stanley Cup champions are here for a pretty darn good reason. They are an exceptionally hard-working, well coached hockey team riding an all-star caliber goaltender. They seem to have perfected the playoff style, playing it to almost perfection, content to score two to three goals then clog up the neutral zone and attempt to cut down on the quality attempts on goal by the opposition.
The experience of making it all the way last season and defeating the Devils is something that has made this team even hungrier to repeat and prove to not be one year wonders.
The offense is led by the dynamic Anze Kopitar. After scoring 42 points in 47 regular season games, he has slipped in the post-season to 2 goals and 7 points in 13 playoff contests. But make no mistake, this is a player that is exciting to watch when the puck is on his stick and if he gets on a hot streak, the Blackhawks will have their hands full to contain him. Captain Dustin Brown continues to tow the line on legality when it comes to his physical play but leads by example, exerting 150 percent on each and every shift. Jeff Carter still looks like he attached rockets to his skates and leads the club with 5 goals in 13 games. His partner-in-crime Mike Richards leads the entire club in playoff scoring with 2-8-10. It truly is a spread offense for Los Angeles, if I may borrow a common football term, as proven by Justin Williams and Slava Voynov each chipping in with 4 goals each.
The Kings defense starts and ends with Jonathan Quick. Sure you can put Drew Doughty out there as the best of the bunch and you would be correct but the all-star Quick is the straw that stirs the drink. His performance against the Sharks gives the Kings a huge advantage in this series, not to mention he is already leading in the balloting for his second straight playoff MVP award.
Why The Blackhawks Can Win
Having won the cup back in 2010, the Blackhawks certainly are no stranger to the rigors, ebbs and flows of the playoffs. They proved their worth in overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to beat a very good Detroit Red Wings team three straight times, culminating with the dramatic overtime win in game seven.
Captain Jonathan Toews seemed to breathe a little easier after finally notching his first goal of the playoffs and really elevated his game over the final three games of the series. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and the team’s leading playoff scorer, Patrick Sharp (7-4-11) lead the offense. Contributions from the supporting cast of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad, among others, will be crucial to the Hawks success or lack thereof in this series.
On the blueline Duncan Keith is having a tremendous post-season run, notching 9 points in 12 games and playing disciplined defensive hockey. Brent Seabrook, fresh off his game seven heroics, has been disappointing thus far in posting a -5 rating and hardly looking deserving of playing 25 minutes a night at various times. Same can be said for Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya had a number of scary adventures in the 3rd period of game seven. The Blackhawks defense will really have to step up its game if they want to shut down the balanced Kings attack.
In goal, Corey Crawford is attempting to silence his critics who said the crease was the biggest need for the team last off-season. He enters this series with 1.70 goals against average and .938 save percentage over 12 games after posting a miraculous regular season as well. Anything short of a cup win and Crawford might be unjustly reading those same quips in the Chicago papers over the summer.
This truly is a another example of what odds makers would call a classic ‘pick-em’ . Two hockey clubs playing real well at the most critical juncture of the season. Both with goaltenders who are sharp and making routine and spectacular saves at times. Both with deep lineups that make you work for every inch in all three zones.
The Blackhawks are slightly deeper at forward and if Toews continues his spirited play the Kings really do not have an answer for him in addition to Kane, Hossa and Sharp. Defense could be considered another slight edge to Chicago, although leaning closer to even than the forwards. Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith are a virtual wash and you could argue that across the remainder of the defense corps, the Blackhawks have more experience.
There is no question that the advantage in goal goes to Los Angeles. Quick is an absolute monster right now and with the exception of his gaffe in game one of the opening round has not allowed what anyone would consider to be a soft goal. Crawford is prone to lapses in concentration at times and we have seen some fluky shots beat him. Luckily those stoppable shots that found twine did not come back to haunt Chicago.
My second rooting interest has been with the Blackhawks ever since they drafted one of my favorite non-Islanders in Kane back in 2007. In attempting to not let that sway me one way or the other, I think honestly and objectively that Chicago will be riding a tidal wave of good momentum in coming back from 3-1 against Detroit. That plus talent at forward that is shining at a critical juncture makes them the choice for me to represent the Western conference in the Stanley Cup.
HAWKS IN SEVEN