Who would’ve thought that this year’s Western Conference Finals would be a re-match of last year’s? Probably not many. But the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are set to duke it out for the second-straight year. Could a rivalry develop between these two? That’s a question for a different article. Instead, Hawks fans are probably wondering if they can beat the Kings again.
The short answer is “Yes.” The Hawks have many factors in their favor — offense, speed, skill, playmakers (Patrick Kane, anyone?), depth, maybe goaltending (any doubts that Corey Crawford is good needs to stop) and a sweep of their season series — to beat the Kings. The fact that the Hawks have not yet hit their stride could be another factor. The Hawks are still defending Stanley Cup champions, a reverse from last year when the Hawks and Kings met in the Conference Final. Adding another bit of advantage, the Hawks have a kind of grit that Barry Melrose likes.
Of course, the Kings have come back from 3-0 and 3-2 deficits against two very good teams. They’re 6-0 in elimination games, have their own grit and persistence that allowed them to pull a 2004 Boston Red Sox on the San Jose Sharks and then beat the favored Anaheim Ducks, and oh — Jonathan Quick and Anze Koptiar are on fire. The Kings have a very tough defense, and their offense, which was struggling early in the season, has begun to pick up at the right (or wrong, if you’re a Hawks fan) time, averaging 3.21 goals per game in this playoffs.
What is shaping up is what could be a good series. Last year’s contest was hard-fought, but the Hawks were simply too good for the Kings (although double overtime was required to end Game 5). This year, however, the Hawks have used one-period or half-game efforts to beat their opponents. Against a team like the Kings, that can’t happen. The Hawks will need to hit their stride starting with this series if they want to win.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to expect the Hawks can pull it off. The Hawks are, quite possibly, the best team the Kings have faced in these playoffs. The Hawks, meanwhile, have gotten past their toughest tests. This series could go the distance for all we know. Either way, it looks like this will be one tough series.