The Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the President’s Trophy this season, face off against the Los Angeles Kings, the reinging Stanley Cup champions, Saturday evening in the Western Conference Finals. While Chicago was the obvious favorite going into the playoffs, many incidents happened to blur the lines. It could be one of the toughest series to call.
Chicago received a huge wakeup call in the second round against the Detroit Red Wings. They had to come back from a 3-1 deficit to clinch the series in a nail-biting Game 7. L.A. went seven games against the San Jose Sharks, but did not face the same challenge as Chicago.
L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick (8-5, 1.50 goals-against average, .948 save percentage) and Chicago goalie Corey Crawford (8-4, 1.70, .938) are the best goalies in the playoffs. While Quick has better stats than Crawford, Chicago averages 34 shots on goal against its opponents, which means the L.A. defense will need to be a major factor. Unfortunately for L.A., it is a prime time for stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to have a breakout series. L.A. has a better defense, but Chicago has the better offense. Patrick Sharp is tied for the playoff lead with seven goals and veteran Marian Hossa contributes no matter who is on his line. Add in Toews and Kane Chicago can easily overtake the L.A. defense and rundown Quick.
Quick does not fare well against Chicago. He is 6-11-1, 2.63, and .915 against the team in his career in the regular season. Plus, if they can stay on offense, can Los Angeles get past Crawford? L.A. only has 20 goals in 13 playoff games. A team needs one more goal than their opponent, but Chicago has 34 goals total in the playoffs. Also, Crawford improved the last few games against Detroit. He proved when he is backed into the corner he can shake off the goal he allowed and not let it affect him. In fact, it only makes him stronger.
There is also the physical aspect of the game. L.A. is one of the hardest-hitting teams in the league. Chicago is full of finesse, but L.A. could throw them off with their hits and force turnovers in the neutral zone. The bruising Kings have 536 hits in 13 games!
L.A. will need to win a game or two in Chicago. They are 1-5 on the road during the playoffs. The home team won every game in their series against San Jose, but L.A. held the higher seed. Now they are the lower seed and a Game 7 would be in Chicago.
What does it all come down to? If L.A. can keep down Toews and Kane and find a way to shake Crawford’s nerves they will win the series. If Toews and Kane wake up and Chicago keeps the pressure on Quick, Chicago will win.
My pick? Chicago over L.A. in seven games.