By Adam Hoge-
JOHNNY’S ICE HOUSE (CBS) The Blackhawks’ season started with the Kings raising a banner and showing off the Stanley Cup before their first game of the season at the Staples Center.
Now the Hawks want to take that Cup away from them.
The Western Conference Finals get underway Saturday at the United Center and for the Blackhawks, it means a shift in the type of opponent they’ll face. After two series against less physical teams, the Hawks will face a dangerous Los Angeles Kings team that is both physical and fast.
“It’s almost like they’re a better St. Louis Blues,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said following Friday’s practice. “They like to play physical and have some players that can score and when they do play physical — especially in their home rink — it seems to work their advantage.”
But the Hawks have a lot going their way too. After a grueling seven-game series that included a 3-1 comeback on the Red Wings, there’s a lot suggesting this team has finally flipped the switch and turned it on here in the playoffs.
“That was a huge obstacle to overcome,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think we gained a lot of momentum off of that.”
Sometimes all you need is a little adversity to get you going and that’s not something the Blackhawks had to face a lot of this season.
“You don’t plan to win a seven-game series coming back from three games to one, but in hindsight and looking back, I think it was a good thing for our team to have gone through what we just went through,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “To kind of be pushed to the edge and for a moment feel like that was it.”
But that wasn’t it. Now they’ll face the defending Stanley Cup champions, who also endured a grueling seven-game series to get to this point. And with the Rolling Stones in town at the United Center Friday and Monday, both teams will be tested with back-to-back games this weekend.
“Not going to lie, (the Red Wings series) was pretty tiring,” Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford said. “We battled hard and we were tired after it.”
Crawford said Thursday’s day off helped a lot to “kind of regroup and rest up a little bit.”
The Blackhawks needed it because starting Saturday, they’ll potentially play seven games in just 12 days while flying back-and-forth to the West Coast.
Here are three things to watch for in this series:
1) Quick Vs Crow
Quenneville joked before Game 7 that you could almost rename hockey to goalie in Game 7s and there’s no doubt the goaltender battle will go a long way in deciding this series. Quick has been outstanding for the second straight year in the playoffs with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. Crawford has been good as well with a 1.70 and .938, but it’s hard not to give the Kings the advantage here.
The biggest difference between the two goaltenders is that Quick can go out and win a game for the Kings while Crawford usually just does enough to give his team a chance to win. Expect Crawford to stay on top of his game in this series, but can the Blackhawks get Quick to crack?
2) Top Line Production
The Blackhawks survived against the Red Wings without a whole lot of production from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, but they need those guys to step up offensively against the Kings. They can find some holes in Los Angeles’ defense if they pressure on the forecheck and then it’s just a matter of getting the puck past Quick, which is not easy.
It appears Bryan Bickell will be moved up to the top line with Toews and Hossa. Quenneville said Friday that Bickell has earned it, which he has. Bickell and Hossa provide a lot of size to pressure the Kings’ defense deep in their own zone and create scoring opportunities.
It’s time for the top line to convert on those chances.
3) Power Play
The Blackhawks have the worst power play remaining in the Stanley Cup Finals with just six goals on 37 chances. That said, the power play did periodically show life against the Red Wings and it’s important for the Blackhawks to build on that. Scoring chances will be hard to come by in this series and the Hawks have to do their due diligence to get someone in front of Quick on the man-advantage and take advantage of those opportunities.
Series Prediction: Blackhawks In Seven
If the Red Wings series was tiring, this promises to be even more exhausting. The Kings are a more physical team and the seven-game set will be played out in only 12 days. The matchup isn’t ideal for the Blackhawks, but they are still the more talented team and have shown the ability all season long to fight back when they are down. Even during the 24-game point streak, the Blackhawks were able to score timely goals late in games to keep the streak going. This is a team that refuses to quit and that will get them through another Game 7 on their home ice.
For more Blackhawks coverage throughout the playoffs, follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamHoge.