(Sports Network) - The Western Conference finals get underway Saturday in
Chicago, as the top-seeded Blackhawks host the defending champion Los Angeles
Kings in Game 1 at United Center.
Although this is the first playoff meeting between these clubs in nearly 40
years, the Blackhawks and Kings will break the ice by playing the first two
tilts of this back-to-back set on consecutive days. Chicago also will host
Game 2 on Sunday before the teams meet again in Tuesday's battle in Los
Both conference finals pit two recent Stanley Cup winners against each other,
as Chicago, the 2010 champs, take on last year's Cup winners in this series
and Pittsburgh (2009 champs) face off against Boston (2011) in the East.
The Blackhawks and Kings both went the distance in the last round, as Chicago
came back from down three games to one to defeat Detroit and L.A. also
outlasted San Jose in seven games.
When the playoffs began most people believed the Blackhawks were the team to
beat in the West, but the fifth-seeded Kings are out to prove that title still
belongs to them.
The Kings were an eighth seed in 2012, but went 16-4 in the playoffs to secure
the franchise's first Stanley Cup title. With an 8-5 mark so far in this
postseason it's obvious L.A. is having a rougher go of it in 2013, but few
people are counting out the Kings, who are trying to become the first team to
win consecutive Cup titles since Detroit in 1997 and '98.
L.A. head coach Darryl Sutter has pretty much an identical team from his title
run of a year ago and his club's best player is still the guy between the
Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy last spring after posting a 1.41
goals against average, .946 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games.
He's currently working on a carbon copy of that performance in 2013, as the
27-year-old American has registered a 1.50 GAA and a .948 save percentage to
go along with three more playoff shutouts.
"You just tell him good job, and hopefully he just stays in the zone," Kings
defenseman Matt Greene said of Quick. "That's the way he's been going, and you
just want him to keep going that way."
The Kings boast a balanced scoring attack thanks to a nice mix of players up
front and a couple of talented blueliners who are adept at joining the rush.
L.A. has eight players with two or more goals in this postseason and that list
includes defensemen Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty, who have posted four and
two tallies, respectively.
Chicago has possibly the deepest roster in the NHL and the lineup includes
plenty of familiar faces from the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup championship team of
three years ago. Forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick
Sharp and Dave Bolland and defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas
Hjalmarsson all helped Chicago lift a Cup and head coach Joel Quenneville has
leaned heavily on that postseason experience this spring.
Chicago's offense is averaging a solid 2.75 goals per game in the postseason,
but the club is really winning with defense and goaltending. In fact, with an
average of 1.83 goals surrendered per game, only the Kings have been stingier
during the 2013 playoffs.
"They protect their net well and when you do get to the net they've got one of
the best goalies in the league making saves," said Sharp, who is tied for the
NHL lead with seven goals in this postseason. "It's not going to get any
easier, that's for sure, but hopefully we can raise our level and play well."
Although the Kings and Blackhawks are ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in
team defense during this postseason, the season series between the two teams
told a different story. Chicago won two of the three encounters in 2013, as
the clubs combined for a sizeable 21 goals during the season series.
As a result of their high-scoring affairs, Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford
posted a lofty 3.52 GAA in two outings against the Kings this year, while
Quick had a 4.04 GAA while starting all three games.
Toews wreaked havoc on L.A. in 2013 with three goals and three assists, while
teammate Michael Frolik added three markers and two assists. Mike Richards led
the Kings with two goals against Chicago, while Anze Kopitar and Doughty tied
for the team lead with three points apiece.
This is only the second playoff encounter between the clubs and the first
since the 1974 quarterfinals, when Chicago beat L.A. in five games.
The Blackhawks were 18-3-3 at the United Center during the regular season and
are 6-1 as the host during the playoffs. L.A. struggled to an 8-12-4 mark on
the road this season and has a poor 1-5 record as the guest in this
The Sports Network