By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The escape from Detroit was a minor miracle.
It appears the Chicago Blackhawks have taken that second-round crisis seriously. As they prepare for the Los Angeles Kings on their beloved home ice, the Blackhawks are playing like the team that ran through their first 24 without losing in regulation.
The Kings have reeled off seven straight home playoff wins this year, and if you go back to the regular season, the ante can be upped to 14 straight home wins. That’s the most ever in Kings history, which goes back to 1967-68.
But here’s the news flash for the Kings. They’re not going to win at home in Game 3 unless they play a lot better at the Staples Center than they did at the United Center.
Never mind the off-night by Jonathan Quick in Game 2 in which he allowed four goals in less than half a game. Humorless Darryl Sutter pulled him at that point and gave him the rest of the night off.
Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year and appeared to be the front runner this year through the first two rounds of play. He has not lost his mojo just because he had one bad game. I doubt Sutter has lost one minute of sleep worrying about Quick.
The problem for the Kings is they spent their weekend in Chicago chasing around the Blackhawks and they could not catch them. The advantage in quickness and team speed that was on the scouting report has played out on the ice.
The other issue for the Kings is a lack of goal scoring. Anze Kopitar is the Kings best player, but he has scored two goals in the postseason and was scoreless in the last 15 games of the regular season. Kopitar is not on the injury report, but when he gets his name on the score sheet twice in 30 games, something is wrong.
Mike Richards got hammered by Dave Bolland in the first game of the series and could not play in Game 2. When healthy, Richards is a difference maker, but he is not in that condition at the moment.
Jeff Carter is the Kings’ lone consistent offensive threat. He’s got speed, a quick release and a desire to score goals. Carter is one of the most unusual players in the league. Check out his goal-to-assist ratio. Carter scored 26 goals during the regular season and seven assists. He’s a center and most at his position will look to pass first and shoot second.
Not Carter. He loves to fire away. In the playoffs, the total is six goals and three assists.
They have a rookie in Tyler Toffoli who should be a star in years to come, but unless he can turn the clock ahead two years, he’s not going to hurt the Blackhawks.
The Kings are tired and slower than the Blackhawks. Home ice or not, that’s not a formula for a comeback.
It’s almost time to look ahead to the Stanley Cup Final. In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins are doing to the Pittsburgh Penguins what the Blackhawks have done to the Kings.
It’s probably even more impressive, since the Bruins eviscerated the Penguins twice (9-1 cumulative score) on their home ice.
Now they go home with a 2-0 lead. They should be in good shape to get to the Finals for the second time in three years, but the Penguins are still capable offensively. It’s their horrid defense that’s the biggest problem.
Whether it’s the Bruins (quite likely) or the Penguins, the Blackhawks will have one big advantage. They will have been steeled by much tougher competition along the way.
Many hockey pundits have long given the Western Conference a big advantage over the teams in the East. That has not always been true. But it is this year.
Just look at the way the playoffs stacked up. In the East, the Penguins were the only strong team from start to finish. The Bruins looked just as strong in the first two months of the season but waltzed through the final two months. The other six playoff teams all had major flaws.
In the West, the top seven teams were all solid. Anaheim was rock-solid through the season, Vancouver was effective, San Jose was also a major challenge. The Blackhawks know how tough the Red Wings were and the Kings are going through difficulties now, but they are the defending Stanley Cup champions.
So, it’s within reach for the Blackhawks. Win one of the two games in Los Angeles and they will come home Saturday with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Then comes another chance at glory, and the Blackhawks would have been steeled by much tougher competition when they get set to take on the Bruins or Penguins.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.