Before the playoffs started, many people had pinned these exact same teams against each other in the Western Conference Finals. However, not many predicted the way in which these teams would have made it this far. In the first round, the Blackhawks made a little bit of history after they were down two-games-to-none in their series versus the St. Louis Blues. Conversely, the Kings made an even bigger splash in the history books in their first round series with the San Jose Sharks.
Before the first round of this year’s playoffs, of the 291 teams in NHL playoff history down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series, only 37 were able to come from behind to win the series (12.7 percent). Of the four Western Conference teams that found themselves in that very same hole (Blackhawks, Kings, Wild, Stars), three of them came back to win, bucking the historical trend. The Kings, however, dug themselves out of an even greater hole. After being down 3-0 in their series with the Sharks, the Kings rattled off four in a row and became only the fourth team in NHL history to make that kind of comeback. In the second round, the Kings had to make another comeback in order to get past the number one-seeded Anaheim Ducks, winning Games Six and Seven after facing elimination.
This was not exactly the way these two teams would have liked to have reached the Conference Finals, but each team has learned a lot from each round and is now coming into this series better prepared for just about anything that can be thrown their way. In a rematch of last year’s WCF, the Kings will have to attempt to overcome Chicago’s home crowd again as the Blackhawks own the home-ice advantage for the second straight year. Here is a breakdown by position for each squad and which team holds the advantage.
These two teams play vastly different styles with their forwards, so it is hard to choose which style will prevail. But if history has anything to say about it, the Blackhawks style of speed, quickness and puck movement should have the advantage over the tough, grind-it-out type of forwards. The Blackhawks are 9-2 against the Kings in their past eleven games since the 2012-13 regular season, including the postseason. The Hawks forwards are led by Captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa. Hossa leads all Chicago forwards with 11 points with Kane and Toews trailing just one point behind.
This talented group of forwards may be a force to be reckoned with, however, the league’s leading playoff scorers reside on the top line of the Kings. After acquiring Marian Gaborik from the Blue Jackets before the trade deadline, Gaborik, along with help from his center, Anze Kopitar, have been catalysts for the comeback victories. Gaborik leads all skaters in goals with nine, while fellow linesman, Kopitar, leads all skaters with 13 assists and 19 points. The top lines for both of these teams should have plenty of fireworks to display throughout this series, but the series may just be won by depth and clutch-ness. The Hawks will have the advantage in both of these categories as their forwards appear to be a never-ending barrage of talent that can wear any team down mentally and physically. In the matters of clutch-ness, it is hard to argue with “Mr. Clutch” himself, Patrick Kane, who already has three game-winning goals, two of which were overtime winners. Williams, or “Mr. Game Seven”, could have something to say about clutch, but Kane paired with fellow teammate Jonathan Toews, who has had four of his five goals end up being game winners already, including one in overtime, will take this category.
The adage that defense wins champions is not lost on either of these two teams. However, their defensive styling could not be any more different, yet still just as effective. The Blackhawks have a combination of offensive, defensive and two-way defenseman on their roster that can stifle any opponent. The offensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can add an additional amount of offense when or if the Chicago forwards happen to be having a down game. The pairing of Oduya and Hjalmarsson rank five and six among all NHL defenseman in the category of Relative Corsi Quality of Competition, meaning that they have been tasked with having to shut down a team’s “best-of the-best” every single game. The Blackhawks have a defensive or offensive answer to almost any situation that could arise thanks to the depth and style of these defensemen. Whether it is an offensive zone start with the Hawks needing a goal, the pairing of Seabrook and Keith is better than any duo you could want out there. Whether it is a big penalty kill or important defensive zone start, Oduya, Hjalmarsson, Rosival, and Leddy are more than capable enough to handle the task.
On the other hand, the Kings play more of a suffocating team defense, a defense that was top of the league during the regular season. Their defense, led by Drew Doughty, has always been a key to the Kings postseason success, as they have now reached the WCF for a third straight season. Puck possession is how the Kings wear their opponents down and this stems from their defenses ability to quickly shutdown an opposing offense by limiting them to minimal attempts before regaining control. Limiting the scoring chances of the Blackhawks will be a struggle for even the best defensive team in the league, as the Hawks have solid scoring through all four lines to go along with defenseman that can tally up just as many goals as their forwards. Seeing the up and down nature of both of these defensive units so far in the playoffs, it is hard to pick who exactly holds the advantage. The advantage will simply go to whichever defensive unit decides to show up on a game-by-game basis.
It is hard to go against Jonathan Quick, especially when the game is on the line. Quick is now 6-0 when facing elimination in this year’s playoffs alone, a statistic that is hard to contend with. However,the fact still remains that if his goalie play had been more consistent during the first two rounds, there might not have needed to be six elimination games. That is where the Blackhawks goalie, Corey Crawford, comes in.
Crawford has been the best goalie throughout the entire playoffs this season and is quietly making a push for the Conn Smythe. Crawford leads all goalies with a 1.99 GAA and a .931 save percentage. Not many people would choose Crawford over Quick, especially in the playoffs, but it is time to start giving the man in Chicago some props for what he is accomplishing. Crawford may not receive the accolades that the other goalies in these two Conference Finals will receive, but ask the Blackhawks who their number one choice in net would be, and they will choose the 29-year-old in net that won them a championship last postseason and is building a dynasty with his performance this postseason.
With Chicago being 6-0 at home and owning the home-ice advantage, paired with the inconsistent play of the Kings in the first two rounds, it is hard to choose against the talented Hawks. The Blackhawks are built to become the first dynasty in over 20 years and if the Kings find themselves in an early hole, attempting to make the same comebacks seen in Rounds One and Two, the Hawks will surely have an answer for them in taking their next step towards greatness.
Chicago Blackhawks Advance: 4-2
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Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Read Me @ GuardianLV