With the NHL's Western Conference final set to begin Sunday with Game 1 of the Blackhawks-Kings series, here's a breakdown of the matchup along with a prediction.
Chicago vs. Los Angeles
: 46-21-15, 107 points, 3rd in Central Division, defeated St, Louis 4-3 in 1st round, Minnesota 4-2 in 2nd round.
: 46-28-8, 100 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, defeated San Jose 4-3 in 1st round, Anaheim 4-3 in 2nd round.
1. It isn't often a team can survive a three-game losing streak in the Stanley Cup playoffs; let alone two three-game losing streaks. Yet that is exactly what the Kings have done this spring.
There is no doubt the Kings have all the ingredients to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, but they seem to sleepwalk through games until they have a gun to their head before they get serious again. To be fair, they have been up against some pretty tough competition in the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks; two teams many thought could also win the Cup.
In Round 1 against San Jose, the Kings spotted the Sharks a 3-0 series lead before engaging. In Round 2, they shocked the Ducks by winning the first two games in Anaheim and then drifted off again before coming back with two consecutive wins to advance to the Western Final. A third three-game losing streak might be flirting with disaster.
2. It is an old saying that your best players have to be your best players, but for the Blackhawks, that has been the case. Most notably captain Jonathan Toews has four game-winning goals and his sidekick, Patrick Kane, has three. Veteran Marian Hossa is tied for the team lead in points with 11. Defenceman Brent Seabrook, who sat three games for bashing David Backes of the St. Louis Blues in the head in the first round, also has 11 points in just nine games. Perhaps most importantly, goaltender Corey Crawford has done his job. Despite winning a Cup two years ago, there have been lingering doubts about his ability to succeed in the playoffs and yet he enters Round 3 with the best goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931) in the league. Add to this the fact left-winger Bryan Bickell, who had nine goals and 17 points in 23 post-season games last season, is at it again with six goals and nine points in 12 games.
3. The Blackhawks are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98 to win back-to-back Cups. Standing in their way are the Kings, who won the Cup two years ago. Based on their play in the regular season, not to mention the past few years, the team that captures the Western Conference crown will be huge favorites to defeat the winner between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.
There really aren't any dynasties in a 30-team league that boasts parity anymore, but these two teams come close.
Dec. 15 Blackhawks 3-1 at Chicago
Dec. 30 Blackhawks 1-0 at Chicago
Feb. 3 Blackhawks 5-3 at Los Angeles
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
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