The Blackhawks find themselves in a very familiar position. Yes, they’re off to another conference final, their fourth appearance there in the past six seasons. But we’re talking more about playing the waiting game.
The Blackhawks, who eliminated the Minnesota Wild in Game 6 on Tuesday night, will play the winner of the 2nd Round series between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. The series is tied, 3-3, with Game 7 looming in Anaheim on Friday night and if the Ducks win, they will have home-ice advantage vs. the Blackhawks. If the Kings come back to win the series, the Blackhawks have the home-ice edge. Either way, the Western Conference Final will begin this weekend.
So what are the advantages and disadvantages of playing each team? Glad we asked. Let’s have a look at a few.
— A little more dinged up? At this point of the postseason, everyone’s dealing with injuries, whether we know about them or not. It’s just a matter of how serious those injuries are and how many players are nursing them. The Ducks will be coming off two physical series, first against the Dallas Stars and now the Kings. Those take their toll.
— A young goaltender. John Gibson came on as the surprise starter in Game 4 vs. the Kings. It worked, as Gibson won a 28-save shutout that night and then stopped 39 of 42 to claim Game 5 for the Ducks. Gibson obviously can handle pressure, coming into the situation he has. But how will he do as that pressure escalates? The Blackhawks would want to test him and find out.
— More travel weary. The Blackhawks haven’t had to go far for their first two postseason rounds. Nevertheless, they’ve still spent some time flying, with two trips to St. Louis and three to Minnesota (they came home between Games 3 and 4). Meanwhile, the Ducks’ travel was a whopping 45-minute drive, pending Southern California traffic, of course. Hey, don’t underestimate the benefit of less travel; it has its wearisome qualities.
— Scoring savvy. The Wild had their chances but couldn’t capitalize on them. The Ducks have. Anaheim is averaging 2.91 goals per game this postseason, just a shade under the Blackhawks (2.92). Scoring has been fairly balanced, too. Devante Smith-Pelly leads the Ducks with five goals, Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Bonino have four and Corey Perry has three.
Los Angeles Kings
— The Kings are struggling to score again. They got their share of goals against the Sharks, but against the Ducks, the Kings have just 11 goals over the first five games. Marian Gaborik has been stellar throughout the playoffs, scoring five of his eight goals vs. the Ducks. Anze Kopitar has been helper-happy with six assists vs. the Ducks, but he hasn’t scored a goal against them. This ultimately hurt the Kings last season, too.
— A little more dinged up, part deux. The Kings have been missing defenseman Robyn Regehr since Game 1, when he was hurt on a hit by Teemu Selanne. That’s been tough for a Kings team already depleted at defenseman (Willie Mitchell’s been out the entire second round). That adds to the Kings’ susceptibility as the playoffs continue.
— The Kings are resilient. Los Angeles was down, 3-0, in its first-round series to the San Jose Sharks. We all know how that turned out. So be it trailing in this series to Anaheim or if they move on and face a deficit against the Blackhawks, the Kings won’t be fazed. Coming back has been a strong suit; don’t underestimate their resolve.
— That Jonathan Quick guy. Yeah, he’s struggled as of late, with the Ducks’ Gibson getting the best of Games 4 and 5. Still, Quick is one of the best in the league for a reason. When he’s on, he’s tremendous, and the Blackhawks would have their hands full if they got that guy.