(Ed. Note: With its new playoff format, the NHL is seeking to create passion for fans and teams through forced, bracketed relationships. But hey, at first glance, the matchups are pretty sexy. All of this led to one ideal theme for our 2014 Playoff Preview: Tinder, the social media dating app. We hope you swipe right this postseason ...)
The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings waited 38 years to face each other in the playoffs, until last year’s conference final win for Chicago in five games. Now, they’re facing each other for the second time in two seasons.
The Hawks topped St. Louis in six games and then did the same against the Wild in round two. The Kings infamously rallied from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate the Sharks and then needed another seven games to beat the Ducks.
Who advances to the Stanley Cup Final?
Chicago Blackhawks (3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (3)
Both teams are a perfect blend of star power and supporting cast up front.
The Blackhawks are led by Marian Hossa with 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists). Patrick Kane leads the team with six goals, while Jonathan Toews has been one of the best all-around forwards in the postseason with 10 points in 12 games and four game-winning goals. Patrick Sharp has six points in 12 games.
Bryan Bickell leads the grunts with six goals in 12 games. Brandon Saad has seven points in 12 games. Andrew Shaw has battled injuries and has four points in seven games. Marcus Kruger, Michal Handzus, Ben Smith, Brandon Bollig and Joakim Nordstrom are among the supporting cast.
The Kings are led by Anze Kopitar (19 points in 14 games) and Marian Gaborik, whose nine goals lead the playoffs. Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams has 11 points in 14 games, as does Jeff Carter. Dustin Brown (6 points) and Mike Richards (5 points) haven’t had the same kind of offensive impact.
The role players for the Kings have been spot-on as usual: Tyler Toffoli (7 points), Tanner Pearson (6 points), Dwight King (3 points), Kyle Clifford (3 points) and Jarret Stoll (55.7 on faceoffs).
The conversation begins with Duncan Keith, Norris finalist, and Brent Seabrook, who has 11 points for the Blackhawks. It continues with Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of the best second pairings in the NHL. Michal Rozsival, Nick Leddy and Sheldon Brookbank fill out Chicago’s defense.
Drew Doughty has nine points and is a plus-7 for the Kings, playing 27:24 per night. So, yeah, basically he’s Drew Doughty. Slava Voynov hasn’t had a strong postseason but has the second most ice time for the Kings. Jake Muzzin has seven points in 14 games. Alec Martinez (6 points) has played all 14 games, while Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz have all shared time filling out the lineup.
For Doughty and overall depth …
Corey Crawford is a stealth Conn Smythe candidate, leading the NHL in both GAA (1.97) and save percentage (.931) in the playoffs entering this series.
Jonathan Quick has had a roller coaster postseason: Getting smoked at times by the Sharks and Ducks, and other times looking like a goaltending god. It’s all led to a 2.72 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
The Blackhawks needed six games to oust the Minnesota Wild, while the Kings needed seven games to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks. But the Kings are coming off two very strong efforts in rallying against Anaheim.
Joel Quenneville is one of the playoffs’ steadiest hands, knowing which buttons to push in leading the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups in his tenure there.
Darryl Sutter laconic press conferences aside, he’s a great postseason coach that can get his team to respond to adversity.
The Blackhawks have the eighth best power play in the postseason (18.2 percent) and the best penalty kill (91.3 percent). Chicago has had 33 power plays in 12 games.
The Kings have the seventh best power play in the postseason (22.9) and the ninth best PK (83.6 percent). The Kings have had 48 power plays in 14 games.
SERIES SLOW JAM
“It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube. It’s got the California vibe and probably something Patrick Kane has been sloshed to.
Players to watch.
SWIPE LEFT ON... Brandon Saad. No points in his last four games and three in his last nine. Still getting his ice time, but not producing.
SWIPE RIGHT ON... Anze Kopitar. In the midst of a star-making playoff run, he’s scored in all but one playoff game.
Chicago in six. The Blackhawks simply find a way to win, and the Kings are facing a team that isn’t going to allow them yet another miraculous series rally. The X-factor: If Quick just decides to say no. Or if the series goes seven, because the Kings just win those.