May 31st, 2013
Most of the previews I’ve seen for the Kings and Blackhawks take a look at the regular season numbers, and how the teams did in the three match ups against each other. At the risk of stating the obvious, this isn’t the regular season! It’s not always who you play, but when you play them. During the regular season the Hawks won 2 of the 3 games, but that’s about as relevant today as an eight-track player. Vegas lists the Hawks as slight favorites, but let’s take a closer look.
Forwards: The Blackhawks forwards are loaded with talent. The combination of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Brandon Saad is among the best in the NHL. Their speed and skill will be a challenge for the Kings to defend. Those 5 forwards have combined to score 15 goals in the post season thus far, but appeared to have some trouble with the Red Wings feisty defense in the last round. The Kings combination of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards has scored a total of just 9 goals throughout the playoffs. They don’t quite have the explosive speed of the Hawks, but they have provided timely scoring throughout the playoffs.
Defense: Both teams have a very versatile group of defenseman. The Hawks Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are skilled puck movers that can create offense on the rush. Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have also helped stabilize a Chicago defense that has allowed the 2nd fewest goals in this years playoffs. However, the Kings have allowed the fewest goals of any team in this years playoffs. Drew Doughty is one of the top 5 defenseman in the world, capable of playing in any situation. Slava Voynov is starting to emerge as one of the league’s top defenseman, Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr have been punishing opposing forwards, and Rob Scuderi is always solid. Although the Chicago defense has been reliable, the Kings depth and physicality at this position give them a slight edge.
Goaltending: Corey Crawford has been solid through the first two rounds of the playoffs with a 1.70 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. Crawford let’s in an occasional soft goal, but benefits quite a bit from Chicago’s excellent puck possession game. He is opposed by the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy Winner, and arguably the best goaltender in the world, Jonathan Quick. Quick leads all playoff goaltenders in goal against average, save percentage, shutouts, and appears to be playing even better than last year. The Kings can only hope that Quick can post a shutout or two in Chicago, so they won’t have to hear that dumb ass song they play in the United Center every time the Hawks score a goal.
Special Teams: The Blackhawks powerplay was ranked 19th in the NHL this season, and 10th in the postseason. Their powerplay has been the most ineffective of all the teams remaining in the postseason. This can likely be blamed on special teams coach Jamie Kompon, who was with LA last year, and nearly crapped all over their success. The Blackhawks have been the best penalty killing team in the playoffs, while the Kings have been the 5th best penalty killing group. LA’s powerplay has been effective, and ranks 6th in the playoffs.
Prediction: The Blackhawks have incredible offensive firepower, and a solid defensive core that will present a challenge for LA. However, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have had some trouble scoring in the playoffs, and it won’t get any easier against the Kings stingy defense and elite goaltending. There is something to be said for playing a gritty and tough style in the playoffs, as opposed to simply being a finesse team. The Hawks peaked in the regular season, the Kings are starting to peak now, and goaltending is the great equalizer in the NHL. Kings in 6.