Hawks gear up to face LA Kings
The Hawks have a return engagement to the Western Conference Final with a very familiar opponent, in fact the same opponent as last year, the Los Angeles Kings. In a series that could be called the tournament of champions the Hawks and the Kings are the last two Stanley Cup Champions and are looking for more championships but must get past each other first.
Throughout these playoffs we have heard the terms resolve and resiliency used on several occasions when describing the Chicago Blackhawks. Now more than ever they will need to muster all of their resolve because the LA Kings have an equal amount and know how to win and what it takes.
The Los Angeles Kings have faced elimination this post season six times and have battled to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Final. They came back from a 0-3 game series against the very talented San Jose Sharks and battled back from a 3-2 series deficient against the Anaheim Ducks if that does not constitute resolve and character what does?
The Hawks are looking to make history. There has not been a repeat Stanley Cup champion since 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings captured their second consecutive Cup. The Hawks have the opportunity in the salary cap era to do this and are chasing history.
Last year the Blackhawks eliminated the then defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings in five games and won the regular season series 3-0 this year, but this is not the same L.A. Kings team. Also look for them to be a little chapped still from both of these events.
During the trade deadline the Kings picked up more offense in Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets and that pick up has been paying dividends for the Kings. They now have more offensive weapons to compete with the Blackhawks. In fact their average for goals per game in the playoffs is higher than the Hawks but it is the Hawks not the Kings who have the better goals against per game.
The Blackhawks will need to dig deep in this series. The Hawks did not play their best game against the Minnesota Wild which is good news but they need to elevate and play their best game to get past a solid LA Kings.
The other good news is the Kings are coming off of two grueling series against their Pacific Division rivals the Sharks and Ducks that both went to seven games. If you couple that with a short turn around for the Sunday afternoon game one means the Hawks need to skate and skate fast in transition and wear the Kings out early.
This series shapes up to be a truly great series between two well ran organizations and teams. Both teams have the will and know how to win, great skill up front, solid defense and all world goaltending and experienced coaching.
Both teams also have some great closers like Justin Williams for the Kings and Patrick Kane for the Hawks. All this means it must be Showtime!
· What to look for:
· Line matchups will give coach Quenneville the advantage on home ice with last line change and line combos. In this series it could be the difference of who moves on and who hits the links. Anze Kopitar did not have a good series last year against the Hawks partly because of number 19. Look for who wins the battle in the faceoff circle and in the +/- category between Kopitar and JonathanToews this could define the series. Both Toews and Kopitar are Selke Trophy candidates this will be a fun matchup to watch between two complete forwards. The Hawks must contain the Kopitar- Williams-Gaborik line who are all great two way players.
· The Hawks need to find ways to get the puck to the net and establish net front presence and get redirects past Jonathan Quick. They probably will not be able to beat Quick low so aim high and get traffic to the net and look for rebounds. This series could turn out to be swung by who wins the net battle between Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford.
· The Hawks had way too many giveaways in the Minnesota series and need to clean this up quickly and in general have better puck management and transition quickly. Whichever team wins the transition game will probably win the series.
For the Hawks Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook are leading the charge with 2 Goals and 9 assists. If there was ever a time for Patrick Sharp to start burying goals it is now. Look for Sharp to get hot in this series. Also call it a hunch but look for Duncan Keith to have the series of his life.
For the Kings forwards Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik are leading the way in points but look out for superstar defensemen and team Canada Olympian Drew Doughty he is an all zone threat and is dangerous with the puck.
Injuries –Andrew Shaw is still out for the Hawks with a lower body injury but is progressing. He will miss game 1 vs Kings.
Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell both missed the last series but Mitchell may return in this series to help solidify the back end.
Next game Sunday, May 18, at 2:00 p.m. CDT. Tune in to NBC in Chicago or listen on radio via 87.7FM the Game.