Blackhawks Buzz: May 18, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Kings - Game 1
In a rematch of the 2013 Western Conference Final, the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings face off again for the chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Chicago swept their season series against L.A. 3-0-0, outscoring the Kings 9-4 in those meetings; Patrick Kane (2G, 2A) and Jonathan Toews (4A) led the team with four points each. However, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was only in net for one of those losses; he remains one of the better postseason netminders in the league and will not make the Blackhawks’ lives easy in their best-of-seven series.
It’s difficult to ask for more out of Jonathan Toews than he’s already given the Blackhawks through two rounds, and with each game it becomes clearer that the team takes its cue from its captain. Four of Toews’ five playoff goals have stood as game-winners, and his 10 points rank third on the team even though his line is often given the toughest defensive assignments as well. The captain has won 58 percent of his faceoffs in the postseason, leading all remaining players.
Although Toews has been the most consistent Blackhawk, Patrick Kane has often been the most electric. With his amazing roof-shot to seal the series against Minnesota on Tuesday – his third game-winning goal of the playoffs – Kane recorded his fourth career playoff overtime tally, tying him for fourth in league history (only Hall of Famers Joe Sakic, Maurice Richard and Glenn Anderson have more). The Buffalo native now has 11 career goals, including two hat tricks and three game-winners, in potential series-clinching games.
Following one of his best offensive seasons in the NHL, center Anze Kopitar has continued his outstanding production in the 2014 playoffs. The Slovenian native and 2014 Selke Trophy finalist leads all players in the postseason with 19 points (5G, 14A) in 14 games. Kopitar has proven to be one of the NHL’s best two-way players, leading Kings forwards in shorthanded ice time as well as skating on their top power-play unit.
After being acquired from Columbus in a trade-deadline deal, Marian Gaborik has found new life as part of the Los Angeles Kings roster. No longer asked to be the lone playmaking option in a lineup, as he was often called on to be on his previous two teams, Gaborik’s production has reached new heights in the postseason. Currently partnered with Kopitar and team captain Dustin Brown on L.A.’s top line, Gaborik leads all postseason participants with nine goals and ranks second in the league behind Kopitar with 15 points.
Chicago has been relatively successful against Los Angeles in recent memory, going 10-2 in their last 12 meetings – including last year’s conference final. But past results do not promise future success, especially in a playoff series. Los Angeles has many players who know what it takes to win it all, and their deep roster is anchored by talented young stars such as Kopitar, Quick and former Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty, who are more than able to challenge the Blackhawks on every shift. However, they are also missing two of their top defensemen due to injury - Robyn Regher and Willie Mitchell - and there is no timeline set for their return.
Both teams like to play a puck possession game, but one edge that the Blackhawks may have coming into this series is their overall team speed, allowing them to skate out of some problems and neutralize some of the Kings’ physicality. With L.A. playing two consecutive seven-game series against physical opponents, and with one cross-country travel day before facing the Blackhawks on their home ice, Game 1 could be Chicago’s chance to get an early jump on their opponent with a strong effort.