It seems like ages ago when the Chicago Blackhawks were down 3-1 in their series against the Detroit Red Wings. Their comeback was made of determination, and it paid off at the right moment. The Los Angeles Kings probably feel like it was an uphill battle against the San Jose Sharks. But those are in the past. The Kings and Blackhawks will now face off to determine who goes to the Stanley Cup Final in two weeks.
The biggest talk for this round is the goaltending. At one end is Jonathan Quick, last year’s Conn Smythe winner. He’s the main reason the Kings are back in the playoffs, just as he was the reason they won the Stanley Cup last year. At the other end is Corey Crawford, who has defied expectations. He’s also the main reason his team made it to the conference finals, especially after two previous postseason performances that fell flat. Both are spectacular in net, and it’s hard to get pucks by them.
For the Blackhawks to get pucks behind Quick, it’ll take more than just luck. Quick anticipates shots and can shut down the best players the Blackhawks throw at him. What they need is a constant net presence, and that can come in the form of Andrew Shaw. Two of the Blackhawks’ power play goals against the Red Wings came as a result of Shaw planting himself in front of Jimmy Howard. They also need to do some anticipating of their own, which means they need to decode Quick’s moves.
At the Blackhawks’ media day on Friday, Patrick Kane called the Kings a “better St. Louis Blues.” They may have names like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the roster, but they rely more on a physical game. For the Blackhawks to counter this, they need to rely on their speed and puck possession more than their physical side. Their best players will have to step up more than ever, and not just on the pretty passes.
The last time the Kings and Blackhawks met was way back in 1974, and the Blackhawks took that quarterfinals series four games to one. At lot has changed in 39 years, and this time, it may not be that easy. Whoever emerges from this series will most likely dominate the Cup Final and win it all.