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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Chicago vs. Los Angeles
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 46-21-15 (3rd Place - Central)
2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated St. Louis 4-2 in conference quarterfinals, defeated Minnesota 4-2 in conference semifinals
It's Round 3 and the defending Stanley Cup champions are still alive and kicking.
Chicago has experienced some stumbles along the way in the 2014 postseason, but the dream of becoming the first team to win consecutive Cups since Detroit repeated as champions in 1997 and '98 is still there for the taking. Standing in the way of a return trip to the Cup Finals is once again the Los Angeles Kings, who the Blackhawks beat in five games last spring for the conference title.
The Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 in the first round against St. Louis before winning four straight to take the series. Chicago then jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Round 2 versus the Wild before allowing Minnesota to even the set with wins in Games 3 and 4 on home ice. However, Joel Quenneville's club picked up a home win in Game 5 before closing out the series in six with an overtime win at Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have combined to score seven of Chicago's eight game-winning goals in this postseason, a fact that should surprise no one. Both players have won Conn Smythe Trophies, with Toews taking the playoff MVP award in 2010 and Kane winning it last spring.
Kane delivered the OT winner in Game 6 against the Wild, giving him four career playoff tallies in overtime. The 25-year-old American earned the clinching goal of the 2010 Cup Finals, scoring in OT of Game 6 in Philadelphia to silence the crowd and hand Chicago its first Cup title since 1961.
Toews, Chicago's 26-year-old captain, is leading all NHLers with four GWGs in this postseason and, along with Kane, is tied for second on the club with 10 points this spring. Kane has six goals and four assists in 12 games, while Toews has five goals and five helpers.
Marian Hossa, a superb two-way forward, is leading Chicago with 11 points on two goals and nine assists. Defenseman Brent Seabrook also has two goals and nine assists for the Blackhawks despite missing three games in the opening round due to a suspension.
Chicago is averaging 2.92 goals per game on offense this postseason and allowing 2.25 goals on defense. It's possible the offensive output could go even higher if Patrick Sharp begins scoring at his regular-season clip.
Sharp led the Blackhawks with 34 goals and 78 points in 82 games during the regular season, but has two goals and four assists in 12 playoff tilts. The good news for Chicago is half of Sharp's postseason points came over Games 4 and 5 against Minnesota.
Chicago expects to get injured forward Andrew Shaw back at some point during the conference finals, but it's not certain if his return will come in Game 1. Shaw suffered a lower-body injury in the opener against Minnesota and missed the remainder of the series. He is a valuable net presence on the power play and has two goals and two assists over seven playoff games this spring.
While the Blackhawks went 2-for-4 on the power play in Game 1 after Shaw left the contest in the first period, the club was just 1-for-9 with the man advantage in the final five games against the Wild. Chicago is 6-for-33 (18.2 percent) on the power play for the playoffs.
Forward Brandon Bollig missed the final two games of the Wild series due to a suspension, but is available to play in Game 1 against the Kings.
Although Seabrook is leading Chicago's blue line in scoring, it's pretty clear Duncan Keith is Quenneville's go-to guy at the back end. Keith, the Norris Trophy winner in 2010 and a finalist for the award this season, is leading Chicago with an average of 27 minutes, 57 seconds of ice time per game in the playoffs. That's over three minutes more per game than Seabrook, who is next with an average ice time of 24:19.
Keith has two goals and six assists and is tied for the club lead with a plus- five rating.
Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have played all 12 postseason games for Quenneville and the Chicago coach ended the Minnesota series with Nick Leddy and Sheldon Brookbank rounding out the defensive corps.
Although Corey Crawford is rarely mentioned among the NHL's goaltending elite he has become a steady netminder for this championship club. Crawford posted a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage over 23 games in last year's Cup title run and has similar numbers in 2014, registering a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage through 12 games.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 46-28-8 (3rd Place - Pacific)
2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated San Jose 4-3 in conference quarterfinals, defeated Anaheim 4-3 in conference semifinals
The Kings dominated their way to the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in 2012. Things haven't gone as smoothly so far in 2014 but after winning a pair of road Game 7s to reach Round 3, it's pretty clear Los Angeles still is a dangerous opponent this time of year.
L.A. went 16-4 in the 2012 playoffs with it's toughest test coming in a six- game series win over New Jersey in the Cup Finals. This spring, the Kings are showing they can be just as scary with their backs against the wall.
San Jose held a 3-0 series lead over Los Angeles in the opening round, but the Kings won four straight to become just the fourth team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven set after dropping the first three games. The Kings then found themselves down 3-2 to Anaheim in the conference semis before taking Game 6 on home ice and then routing the Ducks, 6-2, in another road Game 7.
Friday's decisive victory pushed the Kings record in elimination games this spring to 6-0. However, L.A. hopes it doesn't have to improve that mark when it aims for revenge against Chicago in this conference finals rematch.
The Kings boast tremendous forward depth and also have a sturdy blue line led by talented defenseman Drew Doughty, but the club's biggest asset may reside between the pipes.
Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe winner, has had better numbers in his two prior trips to the postseason but he has come through when needed most in 2014. Since allowing 19 goals in the first four games of the playoffs against San Jose, the 28-year-old American has yielded only 17 goals over his next 10 outings.
He stopped 94-of-96 shots (.979 save percentage) sent his way in Games 5, 6 and 7 against San Jose and turned aside 46-of-49 (.939) in the final two games against Anaheim.
Quick has a 2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage this spring and is 37-27 with a 2.17 GAA and .926 save percentage over 64 career playoff games.
The top offensive performers for L.A. so far this spring have been Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, who are leading the NHL in points and goals, respectively, in this postseason.
Kopitar has a league-best 19 points on five goals and 14 assists, while Gaborik, an in-season trade acquisition from Columbus, is pacing the NHL with nine goals and is tied for second in points with 15. But, that duo is only the tip of the iceberg for the Kings, who also boast the likes of captain Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Justin Williams on offense.
Williams has five goals and six assists this postseason and once again proved his worth in Game 7s by scoring the first goal in Friday's blowout win in Anaheim and also adding an assist. He now has 12 points (6G, 6A) in six career Game 7s and his team is 6-0 in those outings.
Gaborik and Richards also have never experienced a Game 7 loss over six appearances each. Quick is 3-0 in decisive seventh games.
The Kings have had 15 players score at least one goal this postseason and 11 of them have notched two or more markers. And it's not only the forwards chipping in on offense for L.A., as the Kings have four defensemen with goals so far this spring. Jake Muzzin leads the way with three markers, Alec Martinez has two and Doughty and Slava Voynov have one goal each. Martinez and Muzzin also have chipped in with four assists apiece.
Doughty is the clear No. 1 option at the back end for head coach Darryl Sutter. He is leading the blue line with nine points in 14 games and is second to Kopitar on the team with a plus-seven rating. The 24-year-old Doughty also is averaging 27:24 of ice time per game in the playoffs, placing him way ahead of Voynov, who is next on the club with an average of 21:45.
The Kings played the entire Anaheim series without defenseman Willie Mitchell and fellow veteran Robyn Regehr missed the final six games of the set. Both blueliners are questionable to return at the start of the West finals.
L.A. ranked 27th in the league on the power play during the regular season, but was 11th-best in killing penalties. The PK has stayed consistent in the playoffs, while the Kings' power play has improved since the end of the regular season. The Kings killed off 83.1 percent of penalties during the season and is at 83.9 percent through two rounds of the playoffs. L.A. scored on just 15.1 percent of its power plays during the campaign, but has bumped that number up to 23.9 percent in the postseason.
The Blackhawks were not quite as dominant in 2013-14 as they were during the previous regular season when they won the Presidents' Trophy and entered the playoffs as the clear Cup favorites. Yet, despite finishing third in the Central Division this season, Chicago still holds home-ice in this matchup thanks to posting seven more points (107) than the Kings in 2013-14.
Of course, not having home ice didn't seem to affect L.A. in the first two rounds and Chicago shouldn't put too much stock into holding the advantage here.
The Blackhawks eliminated L.A. in five games during last spring's West finals, but the series was hardly a blowout. Chicago outscored the Kings by a combined 14-11 margin in the series and clinched the set with a 4-3 double-overtime victory.
Last season's playoff encounter was the second meeting between the clubs in the playoffs. Chicago also beat the Kings in five games during the 1974 quarterfinals.
The Blackhawks went 3-0 against L.A. in the 2013-14 season series and has claimed five of the last six regular-season matchups against the Kings.
Quick only faced Chicago once this season and surrendered five goals on 30 shots in a 5-3 home loss on Feb. 3. He is 6-12-1 with a 2.76 GAA and .910 save percentage in 19 regular-season games against Chicago.
Crawford's lone appearance versus L.A. this season also came in Chicago's 5-3 road win back in February. He is 6-3-0 lifetime with a 2.74 GAA and .906 save percentage in nine games against the Kings, not including the playoffs.
Chicago and the Kings are fairly evenly matched, with the Kings seemingly holding a slight advantage between the pipes. Like last season, we should expect the clubs to play some close games as they battle for the Western crown.
No matter which team wins this series, the club moving on expects to be heavy favorites against either Montreal or the New York Rangers in the Cup Finals. Expect the Kings to give the defending champs a run for their money, but Chicago will be the team left standing in the end.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Blackhawks in 6
05/17 12:59:37 ET