(Sports Network) - Considering their 21-0-3 start to the season and the
general ease with which they navigated the bulk of the 2013 schedule, the
top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks have been somewhat disappointing this
But, at this time of the year, when survive and advance becomes a mantra, the
Blackhawks are in sync with their own expectations. So, does it matter if
Chicago has progressed to this stage of the postseason without racking up
style points? It certainly won't if the club adds another Stanley Cup title to
the trophy case.
Chicago beat Minnesota in five games to open this postseason, but the lofty
expectations that come along with a Presidents' Trophy and a 36-7-5 record
during the regular season even made that seem like a letdown. The fact that
the Blackhawks needed seven games to down the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings
is also another perceived knock against Joel Quenneville's team, even if
Chicago came back from down 3-1 to win the series.
There's no question the road to the Western Conference finals, where Chicago
hasn't been since winning a Stanley Cup in 2010, has been rockier than
expected. But if the old axiom that says what doesn't kill you makes you
stronger is true, the Blackhawks are a team to be feared.
Barring maybe the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago has the deepest roster in the
NHL and the lineup includes plenty of familiar faces from the Blackhawks'
Stanley Cup championship team of three years ago. Forwards Patrick Kane,
Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland and defensemen
Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson all helped Chicago lift
the Cup in 2010 and Quenneville has leaned heavily on that postseason
experience this spring.
Take for example, the way Game 7 ended. The Blackhawks believed they scored
the go-ahead goal with 1:49 left in regulation only to see coincidental
roughing minors, which occurred well behind the play, negate a Hjalmarsson
As the decisive game went into overtime thanks to the questionable call, many
teams would've let negativity take over and possibly lose focus of the task at
hand. Instead, the Blackhawks kept the pressure on until Seabrook scored early
in the extra session to punch the club's ticket to the next round.
"We did have some learning curve in this round," Seabrook said. "Detroit
played a great series. We really had to find ourselves again after the fourth
game, being down 3-1, and I thought the boys responded well."
As Chicago's captain, Toews is the club's primarily leader and he showed why
late in the second round series. After taking three costly penalties in the
second period of a Game 4 loss, the 2010 Conn Smythe winner came back with a
goal and two assists over the final three games to help his team overcome the
Toews only has one goal and five assists in 12 games this postseason, but the
loaded Blackhawks have had other people ready to pick up the slack. All told,
Chicago has eight players with two or more goals in this postseason and Sharp
is leading the way with seven markers, tying him for the league lead in the
playoffs with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis.
Sharp and Hossa, who has five goals, are tied for the team lead with 11
points. Bryan Bickell, a big guy with soft hands around the net, also has five
goals in this postseason.
In addition to Toews, the Blackhawks probably would like to get more
production from Kane. The smooth skating winger has amassed seven assists, but
his goal output of two leaves something to be desired.
Chicago's offense is averaging a solid 2.75 goals per game in the postseason,
but the club is really winning with defense and goaltending. In fact, with an
average of 1.83 goals surrendered per game, only the Kings have been stingier
during the 2013 playoffs.
Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner, is the centerpiece of Chicago's blue
line and has put together a fine postseason. Averaging a team-high 24 minutes
and 36 seconds of ice time per game, Keith has recorded a goal and a club-best
eight assists during the playoffs.
The vastly underrated Hjalmarsson has chipped in three assists this spring,
while Johnny Oduya has registered two goals and an assist. Along with Keith,
Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Seabrook make up the backbone of Chicago's defense and
Quenneville is using each player for an average of 20-plus minutes per game.
Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy don't see quite as many minutes but they've
played in every game this postseason, giving Chicago a consistent six-man
Thanks to the steady group of D-men in front of him, Chicago goaltender Corey
Crawford has seen fewer shots on average this postseason than any other
starting goaltender in the final round. Crawford has faced an average of 28.1
shots per game and that has helped him post strong numbers this spring in both
goals against average (1.70) and save percentage (.938).
The 28-year-old Crawford's postseason play has seen a marked improvement from
2012, when he posted a GAA of 2.58 and an .893 save percentage as Chicago lost
in six games to Phoenix during the opening round.
Crawford also has done his part in making Chicago nearly perfect on the
penalty kill this spring. The Blackhawks have killed off an amazing 40-of-41
of the opposition's power-play chances so far and even managed to record a
The dominant PK has helped compensate for a lackluster power play that has
scored six times on 37 chances (16.2 percent) with the man advantage.
LOS ANGELES KINGS (5th seed, West)
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 27-16-5
2013 PLAYOFFS: Defeated St. Louis 4-2 in conference quarterfinals, defeated
San Jose 4-3 in conference semifinals
The Los Angeles Kings shocked many folks on their way to the franchise's first
Stanley Cup title last spring, but this year's deep playoff run shows their
was more to the 2012 champions than the element of surprise.
The Kings were an eighth seed in 2012, but went 16-4 in the playoffs to secure
a Stanley Cup title. With an 8-5 mark so far in this postseason it's obvious
the fifth-seeded Kings are having a rougher go of it in 2013, but few people
are counting out L.A., which is trying to become the first team to win
consecutive Cup titles since Detroit in 1997 and '98.
Head coach Darryl Sutter has pretty much an identical team from his title run
of a year ago and his club's best player is still the guy between the pipes.
Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy last spring after posting a 1.41
goals against average, .946 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games.
He's currently working on a carbon copy of that performance in 2013, as the
27-year-old American has registered a 1.50 GAA and a .948 save percentage to
go along with three more playoff shutouts.
Quick also received the first Game 7 test of his career in the second round
and passed it with flying colors, stopping 25-of-26 shots to help L.A. down
the San Jose Sharks, 2-1, in the decisive game of the conference semifinals.
"You just tell him good job, and hopefully he just stays in the zone," Kings
defenseman Matt Greene said of Quick. "That's the way he's been going, and you
just want him to keep going that way."
The Kings boast a balanced scoring attack thanks to a nice mix of players up
front and a couple of talented blueliners who are adept at joining the rush.
L.A. has eight players with two or more goals in this postseason and that list
includes defensemen Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty, who have posted four and
two tallies, respectively.
Winger Jeff Carter is pacing the Kings with five goals in these playoffs and
centerman Mike Richards, Carter's former teammate in Philadelphia, is leading
the club with 10 points on two goals and eight assists. Another former Flyer,
Justin Williams, has four goals, including both markers in the Game 7 win over
Anze Kopitar is the best two-way player for the Kings, but he's struggled
getting his offensive game going at times in this postseason. All told, he's
posted two goals and five assists in these playoffs after tying Dustin Brown
for the team lead with 20 points during last spring's championship run.
Whether he's scoring or not, Kopitar figures to play an important defensive
role in this series as he expects to be matched up regularly with Toews.
"It's not going to be any different" Kopitar said of the challenge. "I've
lined up against some pretty good players thus far, and it's not going to be
Brown, the team captain, also has had trouble keeping up with his scoring pace
from the 2012 postseason, as he has three goals and one assist in 13 games
this spring compared to eight goals and 12 assists in 20 games last season.
It should come as no surprise that Doughty is leading the Kings in ice time.
The team's best overall defensemen has logged nearly 28 minutes (27:57) of
action per game.
Sutter also is leaning heavily on Voynov, Robyn Regehr and Rob Scuderi for
minutes, as all three D-men are averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per
Regehr, who also played under Sutter in Calgary, signed a two-year contract
extension with the Kings on Thursday. The club locked up the stay-at-home
defenseman before he was scheduled to hit free agency on July 6.
Greene and rookie Jake Muzzin round out a defensive unit that has helped Quick
hold the opposition to just 1.54 goals per game in this postseason. L.A. needs
to be that stingy considering it's averaging only two goals per game this
The Kings have put up solid special teams' numbers in these playoffs. L.A. is
ranked fifth in penalty killing, stopping 86 percent (37-of-43) of the
opposition's chances with the man advantage. The Kings also are clicking at
the rate of 20 percent on the power play, scoring seven goals on 32
When the playoffs began most people believed the Blackhawks were the team to
beat in the West, but the Kings are out to prove that title still belongs to
Although the Kings and Blackhawks are ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in
team defense during this postseason, the season series between the two teams
told a different story. Chicago won two of the three encounters in 2013, as
the clubs combined for a sizeable 21 goals during the season series.
As a result of their high-scoring affairs, Crawford posted a lofty 3.52 GAA in
two outings against the Kings this year, while Quick had a 4.04 GAA while
starting all three games.
Toews wreaked havoc on L.A. in 2013 with three goals and three assists, while
teammate Michael Frolik added three markers and two assists. Richards led the
Kings with two goals against Chicago, while Kopitar and Doughty tied for the
team lead with three points apiece.
This is only the second playoff encounter between the clubs and the first
since the 1974 quarterfinals, when Chicago beat L.A. in five games.
Although the teams played fast and loose in the regular-season series, expect
things to tighten up a bit in this playoff showdown. L.A. has the edge in net
with Quick, but Chicago has the deeper overall roster and that could be the
difference in what should be a fight to the finish.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Blackhawks in 7
The Sports Network