We all are already aware of the fact that the four teams remaining in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs have each won a Cup within the last four years. Not as noteworthy but still worth nothing is the fact that three of the four teams remaining also happen to boast the game’s three best two-way centers.
Two of those centers will clash head-to-head when the Los Angeles Kings take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals. The Kings will trot out Anze Kopitar as their no. 1 center, while captain Jonathan Toews represents the no. 1 guy for the Hawks.
This is going to be perhaps the biggest matchup to keep an eye on, outside of what happens for each team between the pipes. Each very likely could have had an argument as a Selke Trophy finalist, though Kopitar was a snub for the award, while Toews is one of the three finalists for the award.
Regardless of the individual awards, how these two match up against each other on the ice is going to be must-see television. We’ve seen each struggle with his production, from a points perspective, at times during this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been effective.
In the case of Kopitar, he’s shouldering a lot as this Kings team is relatively thin down the middle. He hasn’t been able to find the back of the net as much as the Kings would like, which has been the case for most of this 2013 season. Nonetheless, he’s terrific in the faceoff circle, plays extremely well in his own zone, and will help generate turnovers.
More of the same can be said of Toews. He was fantastic in the second half of the Hawks’ second round series, but we saw his frustrations boil over several times when matched up against a tough center like Henrik Zetterberg. How Toews reacts to the way Kopitar will handle him will be a key to watch in this series.
In terms of offensive skill, there’s no doubt that Kopitar likely gives up a lot to Toews, who is one of the most offensively skilled players in the game. But when you consider the defensive aspect, this matchup gets a lot more even. Not to mention the size advantage Kopitar has over the Blackhawks captain.
It’s impossible to try and project which one will prevail in this series. We do know that Kopitar has the physical game to knock Toews around quite a bit and try and get inside his head. If he can do that, and slow down Toews’ hot offensive game, which includes some mighty nice possession numbers, the Kings will be a lot better off in this series.