It’s so easy to look back at what happened last year at this time, how the Western Conference Final went for the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was a positive one, for sure. Patrick Kane woke from his offensive doldrums. The Blackhawks got to Jonathan Quick, something that had been difficult for the Los Angeles Kings’ prior opponents. The Kings were also suffering physically more than the Blackhawks, who went on to a 4-1 series victory.
As written previously in this space, however, this ain’t last year; and the Blackhawks aren’t even looking at the past series between the two teams.
The Kings, much like the Minnesota Wild before them, enter their series with the Blackhawks a different group than Chicago faced last spring. The Kings’ offense isn’t sputtering, a huge problem last postseason. They’re healthier through the forward ranks, anyway — at least to all outward appearances. And they’re riding a wave of momentum after two come-from-behind series triumphs.
So, no, this isn’t the same Kings team. And the Blackhawks are mindful of that.
“They're playing really well right now, so we’ve got to be focused on what they've been doing the last couple of series and the way they're playing,” Brent Seabrook said. “If we get up, we have to step on their throats. If we're down, we got to work like hell to get back. At the end of the day we have to focus on our game and focus on what we've been doing, get better at that and be the team that we can be.”
Brandon Saad said there’s no doubt the Kings have their threats.
“You could look back and it’s the same concept (as) with Minnesota: they’re playing really well right now,” said Saad. “They play that tight defensive game but they do have a lot of guys who can score goals. When they get rolling, as you saw last night, they can bury the puck.”
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Saad’s referring to the 6-2 pummeling the Kings gave the Anaheim Ducks in their second-round series on Friday night. It was an impressive display against the Ducks, who had home-ice advantage in that series.
So how do the Blackhawks combat that? Well, it goes back to them playing their game, and it’s more likely they do that against Los Angeles than they did vs. Minnesota. The Blackhawks have gotten that much-needed rest again between these series, and they look to use that to their advantage, too. The Kings, despite back-to-back seven-game series, practiced on Saturday morning before leaving for Chicago. Still, you have to wonder if fatigue could be a factor. The Kings will certainly be flying high after their latest series victory, but it’s a quick turnaround to Sunday’s 2 p.m. CT start.
The Blackhawks, however, still feel they have momentum coming off their Wild victory, and coach Joel Quenneville said the team looks a little fresher after being off the ice two of the last three days before practicing Saturday.
“I like the way we won some big games later in both series, going through two real good tests for our team. We should feel good about winning those series and getting some momentum out of it,” he said. “We know we have a tough opponent. But we’ve got home ice, too. There are some positive things going into tomorrow's game. Let's be excited in that regard and place an emphasis on getting off to a great start.”