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Blackhawks Primed For L.A. Rematch In Western Conference Finals

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 17, 2014 3:00PM


The Chicago Blackhawks have had all the proverbial pieces fall into place for them so far during this latest Stanley Cup playoff run. They entered the postseason struggling, with stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both injured, and seeded third in the Central Division. Then they fell into an early 0-2 hole to the St. Louis Blues before rolling off four straight wins to eliminate the Blues, while earning home ice advantage in the semifinal round courtesy of the Minnesota Wild's ouster of the top-seeded Colorado Avalanche.

The Blackhawks eliminated Minnesota to advance to the Western Conference Finals and have had extra days to rest while the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks went seven games in their semifinal. The Kings earned a trip to the finals and a rematch with the Hawks with an emphatic 6-2 win over the Ducks Friday night in Anaheim. Chicago will have home ice advantage in this series, which kicks off 2 p.m. Sunday at the United Center.

It should be an exciting series featuring two playoff-tested teams who step up in high-pressure situations. The Kings fought back from a 3-0 deficit against San Jose in the first round and a 3-2 deficit against the Ducks. They're 6-0 in elimination games this postseason and 7-1 the past two years when facing ouster. The one loss, of course, coming in Game 6 of last year's Western Conference Finals.

Chicago swept the season series against L.A. 3-0 but the playoffs are a different beast altogether. The series should be a wonderful contrast in styles with the Hawks' "catch as catch can" puck possession offense matched against Darryl Sutter's tight-checking Kings. The goalie matchup is just as exciting with Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick matched against Corey Crawford. Quick gets the accolades as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL but Crawford has been Chicago's best player for the second straight postseason. Crawford enters the finals with a league-leading 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Most telling, Crawford has stepped up his game when his teammates needed him most. He's been barraged by wave after wave of runs by St. Louis and Minnesota in the playoffs and the Chicago defense will need to stay strong in front of him.

Another matchup to watch is Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and the Kings' Anze Kopitar. Both are solid two-way centers and Selke Trophy finalists for the top defensive forward in the league. Toews has had a solid offensive postseason but Kopitar is the leading scorer in the playoffs. Forward Marian Gaborik, acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, leads the league with nine playoff goals. Offense is a new wrinkle for the Kings.Crawford and the Hawks need to be prepared.

But Kane and Toews have had a flair for the dramatic in the postseason. Kane is tied for the team lead with Bryan Bickell in playoff goals with six, but three of them have been game winners including the overtime clincher Tuesday against the Wild. Four of Toews' five postseason goals have been game-winners. Duncan Keith is also playing out of his mind and is tied for the team lead in scoring with 11 points. But Los Angeles' Drew Doughty has stepped up his performance and has nine points in the playoffs. The Keith-Brent Seabrook and Doughty-Jake Muzzin defenseman pairings will be worth watching.

Prediction: Blackhawks in seven.