Combined the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have won three of the last four Stanley Cups. After they both started slow in the opening round of this year’s playoffs, the Blackhawks and Kings have now won a combined 11 straight playoff games. Chicago holds a 2-0 lead on the Minnesota Wild, winning the first two games by a combined 9-3 score. Los Angeles has their hands full versus the top seeded Anaheim Ducks, but after an exciting come from behind victory in the opening game the Kings now have home ice advantage. Both teams are peaking at the right time. Are they on a collision course for the Western Conference finals?
From a Blackhawks standpoint the inevitable answer is yes. Chicago should have no difficulty dispatching the Wild and likely getting several days of rest in the process. Minnesota has a talented core group, but they are severely overmatched at the most important position in professional sports, goaltender. With Corey Crawford in net the Hawks have a massive advantage over Minnesota and Ilya Bryzgalov. After playing without captain Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane at the end of the regular season the Blackhawks are healthy again.
The Los Angeles Kings road to the Western Conference finals won’t be that easy. The Anaheim Ducks have two elite players in Hart Trophy Candidate Ryan Getzlaf and former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry. Anaheim has a deep and talented deep with an ideal combination of youth and experience. Los Angeles came back to win game one at the Honda Center, but the Ducks and Kings series has the feel of a classic NHL postseason matchup, one destined to go seven games. The fact that the two teams are just thirty miles apart adds an extra element to the intensity of the series. Monday’s game is an absolute must-win for the Ducks, who simply cannot afford to fall behind 2-0 versus a team with a goaltender as talented as Jonathan Quick.
If the Kings do advance, and provided Minnesota doesn’t pull a comeback, the Kings and Blackhawks will meet in the Western Conference finals once again. Last season the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings lost a five game series to Chicago, who would go on to beat Boston to win their second cup in four seasons. The Kings offense went stagnant in last year’s matchup, scoring just eleven goals in the five game series. The Kings have bolstered their offense this season, through the evolution of some young players as well as the big acquisition of Marian Gaborik.
So who wins? Chicago is playing their best hockey of the season, with a healthy roster and outstanding goaltender play from Corey Crawford. The Kings, after a brutal start to the San Jose series, have been tremendous over the last week and a half. If the two teams do meet the series will come down to the inevitable defense and goaltending, as well as the Kings ability to slow and contain Patrick Kane. The evolution of Drew Doughty has given the Kings offense a new element, as has the acquisition of a healthy Marian Gaborik. The two goals Gaborik scored to win game one versus the Ducks is a prime example of what the former Wild and Rangers superstar gives the Kings that they didn’t have when they met the Blackhawks last season. This year’s Blackhawks team hasn’t been as nearly impressive as last year’s. Chicago has dominated Minnesota on the scoreboard, but the actual games have been much tighter. Sunday’s game was very similar to Friday’s, where Chicago went through long stretches of unimpressive play. In a tight series the team with the best goaltender arguably has the advantage, and Los Angeles has the best goaltender.
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BY: Chris M.