Well, well, well, so they meet again.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings square off in the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive postseason. Last year’s series featured a little bit of everything, from the Blackhawks winning back-to-back Games 1 and 2 to Duncan Keith’s one-game suspension for hitting Jeff Carter in the mouth with his stick to Patrick Kane finishing off the series with a hat trick, including the overtime game/series winner.
Who will it be this season? No series prediction here, friends. As the late management consultant Peter Drucker said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Hey, we needed a reason to use that awesome quote.
Anyway, let’s look at a few categories heading into this series, and who (if anyone) has the edge.
If there’s a place where the Kings are different this postseason, it’s in this category. Last spring they entered the WCF averaging just two goals per game. It put a tremendous burden on Jonathan Quick, which became evident against the Blackhawks. This season, the Kings are scoring 3.21 goals a game. Acquiring Marian Gaborik was big, and he’s got nine goals and six assists through 14 games. Anze Kopitar, who didn’t look himself in the WCF last year, is fine this time around with a league-leading 19 points (five goals, 14 assists).
On the Blackhawks’ side, the usual culprits have been tremendous. Jonathan Toews has five goals, including four game winners. Patrick Kane, like Toews, has 10 points; of his six goals, three have been game winners. Marian Hossa’s been light on the goal side but strong with nine helpers. It’s going to be tighter in this category this season than it was last.
The Blackhawks’ top two pairs have been strong. Niklas Hjalmarsson has been a standout this postseason, blocking shots (38, second-best in the league) and taking a lot of lumps in the process. Keith and Brent Seabrook remain a solid duo. Nick Leddy has struggled to find consistency this postseason but Sheldon Brookbank has been good in several appearances.
For the Kings, this is where they’re hurting. Robyn Regehr was hurt in Game 1 against the Ducks and hasn’t played since. Willie Mitchell was hurt against the San Jose Sharks; he skated prior to the Kings’ Game 7 vs. Anaheim but did not play.
[WATCH: Kings crush Ducks in Game 7]
Corey Crawford has stepped up when necessary, shaking off poor outings and finishing both series strong. He enters the Western Conference Final with an NHL-best 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage (tied with Henrik Lundqvist). Crawford still gives up the occasional soft goal but has been stellar when necessary.
Jonathan Quick was the shutdown guy last postseason entering the WCF. He hasn’t been quite as good this postseason (2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage). He’s still one of the best in the league but the armor has a few more dings in it at this point.
The Kings have been good on this, scoring 11 goals on 48 opportunities (22.9 percent). The big difference between the two squads: the Blackhawks have just one power-play goal on the road while the Kings have six. Nothing silences the opposing building like capitalizing on the advantage.
It’s contradiction time, sort of. As good as the Kings’ power play has been, it hasn’t faced the Blackhawks’ penalty kill. The Blackhawks have allowed just four power-play goals on 46 short-handed opportunities, a league-best 91.3 percent this postseason. Anaheim’s penalty kill was fifth in the postseason and the Sharks were 14th out of 16 teams. Like we said, this is a different kill the Kings shall be facing.
Closing (or comeback?) mentality
Here’s another interesting category. The Blackhawks are now 12-2 in clinching games dating back to the 2009 postseason. If they have the chance to close, they do it. On the flip side, the Kings have been the comeback, um, kings, this postseason. They erased the Sharks’ 3-0 series advantage in the first round. They were down 3-2 to the Ducks this last round before winning the final two games. The closeout aficionados vs. the comeback kids: something’s got to give.