Western Conference Finals Preview
Only four teams remain in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all vying for a chance to capture the ever elusive Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Rangers and Habs are set to battle for the Eastern Conference Championship, while the Hawks and Kings commence their quest for the Western Conference title on Sunday. Here’s a look at what to expect from the West.
Chicago Blackhawks (Regular Season 46-21-15, Postseason 8-4):
The Hawks are coming off a series win against a tough Minnesota Wild team, and are looking to sharpen up their sometimes shaky play against the Kings. The Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews combination will be a large factor, as they have proven yet again, they are unstoppable in the postseason, combining for 7 game-winning goals. The pair’s past playoff dominance has proven their clutch play isn’t set to disappear any time soon. Corey Crawford boasts a .931 save percentage this postseason and is leading the playoffs averaging only 1.97 goals allowed per game. Fiery forward Andrew Shaw is set to return at some point in the series (though not Game 1, as he skated for the first time at practice today). The players have said on multiple occasions they have yet to play their best hockey and it helps to have home-ice for the rest of the playoff, in addition to extra days of rest.
Los Angeles Kings (Regular Season 46-28-8, Postseason 8-6):
The Kings sealed the deal Friday night in Game 7 against the Ducks, scoring 6 goals in the process- their second 6 goal game this postseason. In the opening round, they battled back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks to advance, proving they have the grit and toughness to outlast anyone in a seven game series. This postseason, they are boasting a 6-0 record in elimination games. Regardless of this record, there are questions regarding their streaky play. The Kings are led by prolific scorer and Selke Trophy nominee Anze Kopitar, who is leading the league in playoff points with 19. Marian Gaborik is also contributing in a big way with a league-leading 9 playoff goals. Jonathan Quick’s reputation and play as an elite goalie speaks for itself. The team has a significant amount of confidence and momentum rolling into this series and feel as though they are a far better team than the Hawks beat last year.
Prediction: Hawks in 6. The series is without a doubt going to be a back and forth battle- the Kings are 7-1 against higher seeds under coach Darryl Sutter, while the Hawks sit at 9-0 against lower seeds under coach Joel Quenneville. Not to mention, elite goalies Crawford and Quick are tied for the fourth best playoff save percentage in NHL history. Experience won’t be a factor-both teams were in this exact position last year- but the Hawks are playing to defend their Stanley Cup. Given that and the home-ice advantage, they will have the edge in the series. Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook stated: “If we’re up, we’ve got to step on their throats. If we’re down, we’ve got to work like hell.” If that doesn’t sound like a battle, I don’t know what does.
Game 1 is scheduled for 2 pm CT at the Madhouse on Madison.