Due to their series going to seven games and the short turnaround time between the end of the 2nd Round and the Western Conference Final, it was unclear whether the Hawks would be playing the Los Angeles Kings or the Anaheim Ducks for the privilege of a second successive SCF appearance. Therefore, when coming up with this preview, I decided to play it safe by enlisting the help of a couple of people who have good knowledge of, and a healthy disdain for, both teams. Here are our good buddies (and San Jose Sharks fans) Staci from the Canafornians and Derek from Fear The Fin , answering some questions about the Hawks formidable opponents.
CTA: It’s the Kings: what should the Hawks expect?
D: Injuries. Lots and lots of injuries. Stan Bowman showed tremendous foresight in electing to wait until the Fall for uber-rookie Teuvo Teravainen to join the Blackhawks in full because the poor kid’s ACL would have been obliterated courtesy of Dustin Brown by Game 3 of this series.
In all seriousness, the Kings are an elite puck possession team that controls play through an aggressive forecheck capable of forcing turnovers aplenty against opponents attempting to break the puck out. The Kings are a suffocating defensive team not only because they spend the majority of their games in the offensive zone, with the puck 200 feet away from Jonathan Quick (look for them to draw a ton offensive-zone faceoffs to boot), but because they’re stifling in their own end and unlikely to yield much in the way of scoring opportunities. I think the Hawks’ transition offense makes them well-equipped to counter much of L.A.’s gameplan and, while last year’s Western Conference Final was probably a lot closer than the five-game result would suggest, Chicago seemed to have most of their success when quickly moving the puck up the middle and attacking some of the Kings’ slower defensemen.
The difference with this year’s Kings squad, in addition to the fact that a pair of those lead-footed blueliners in Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell won’t play due to injury to start the series, is that the acquisition of Marian Gaborik, the emergence of Tanner Pearson and the development of Tyler Toffoli makes them a team that can generate goals off the rush in their own right. Gaborik has also helped transform the Kings’ power play from impotent to dangerous, meaning the Kings can now beat opponents in a number of ways offensively, something we definitely couldn’t say about them in the past.
S: The Blackhawks should expect to be advanced into the Stanley Cup Finals by the end of this week.
CTA: Players to watch? Who’s dangerous? Who is struggling?
D: We all know that Jonathan Toews is better than Sidney Crosby now, that’s not up for debate, but Anze Kopitar might be right up there with him. He’s been an offensive powerhouse in these playoffs, leading the postseason in scoring with 19 points in 14 games. Kopitar coming alive in Game 4 of the Sharks’ series was a big part of what keyed the Kings’ comeback and he was arguably even better against Anaheim in completely neutralizing Ryan Getzlaf at even-strength. The one King perhaps even more valuable than Kopitar has been defenseman Drew Doughty who hasn’t produced at the same level as Kopitar but consistently pushes play forward from the back end while going up against the opposition’s best. Whoever wins the matchup of Kopitar and Doughty versus Toews and Keith (or, alternately, the Oduya/Hjalmarsson pairing if Joel Quenneville opts to go that route) likely wins this series so those two Kings are definitely the ones to keep an eye on, in addition to the red-hot Gaborik and, should this series need seven games, Justin Williams.
As for who’s struggling, the Blackhawks aren’t the only team in this series employing an over-the-hill, past-his-prime, ex-Philadelphia Flyers center who’s pretty much useless outside of the penalty kill. Mike Richards is still a thing and he’s been so bad during his tenure in L.A. that he now finds himself centering the Kings’ fourth line. He still gets his reps on special teams but he’s clearly not the player he once was; “struggling” might be an understatement in his case. The hockey media and Kings’ fanbase can’t wait to fellate Jonathan Quick every time something goes right for the team but the truth is that he’s been average at best not only in these playoffs but in every reason since his Conn Smythe Trophy. Quick enters the series against the Blackhawks with a .916 even-strength SV% this postseason; none of the other three starters left standing have been anywhere near that bad. In fact, Quick’s overall career NHL save percentage, regular season and playoffs combined, is .9167. Corey Crawford’s? .9167. There are reasons for Hawks fans to fear the Kings (though I think Chicago wins this series in the end) but the goaltending matchup just isn’t one of them; for all the hype, there isn’t much evidence that Quick is a better goalie than Crawford.
S: Players who are dangerous include: Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll, Jordan Nol-oh did you mean players who are dangerously good? Marian Gaborik is having a hell of a playoff run but he’s long overdue for a lengthy injury so I’m sure you won’t have to worry too much about him. Anze Kopitar, aka the poor man’s Jonathan Toews, is pretty good I guess. Jonathan Quick is really good at knocking off his helmet when there is extended time in the defensive zone, he also is good at knocking off his own net. His style of play has evolved throughout these playoffs, as he has shown that he can dive and cry as well as Mike Smith, which is a pretty big accomplishment, I suppose. Drew Doughty is also a noted crybaby, so get ready for him to take an untimely penalty and to huff and puff and blow the penalty box down. End this series in 6 or less games and you won’t have to worry about Justin Williams.
A player to watch in general, that I consider neither dangerous nor struggling, is Jake Muzzin. He has been scoring goals for both teams so he could be a blessing or a curse depending upon what day it is. The same goes with Alec Martinez.
In regards to players who are struggling, although he was good in the last two games against Anaheim, Mike Richards has just been awful; this includes the entire regular season and the postseason. Slava Voynov got signed to a pretty nice contract and then decided that he didn’t need to be good anymore, so he is also having a terrible year. Dustin Brown is just flat out fucking atrocious but thankfully Teuvo Teravainen isn’t playing, as Dustin’s thirst for young men’s knees cannot be quenched. Jarret Stoll is also terrible and I assume that the Blackhawks will capitalize on all of his offensive zone penalties that he will take; I would say keep your head up around him but it doesn’t matter he will just pounce on your players and elbow them a couple more times to make sure he gets the job done. Matt Greene has been playing due to injuries and lol oh boy the Blackhawks are going to have fun with him on the ice.
CTA: Biggest Douchebag?
S: Oh shit, that’s a tough one. There are just so many douchebags. I guess hands down, it would have to be Messier Leadership Award nominee Dustin Brown. The Los Angeles Kings captain dives constantly, and is really good at it. He also a noted rookie assassin, as I have mentioned before. These are literally the only two things he contributes to his team, aside from scoring an occasional meaningless empty net goal.
D: Fuck Dustin Brown.
CTA: How do you reckon this series will play out?
D: These teams are so closely matched that I think it’s going to come down to the fact that the Kings have already put a lot of tread on the tire by playing in fourteen games through two rounds and the fact that the Blackhawks have home-ice advantage. I’m picking the Hawks in 7 but I also picked the Sharks in 7 in the first round so what do I know?
S: Like I’ve said previously, this should be a pretty easy opponent for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Los Angeles Kings struggled against noted playoff idiots, the San Jose Sharks, and then remembered that the Sharks are terrible thus capitalizing on them. Beating the Sharks in the playoffs is so easy that even the St. Louis Blues have done it; not an impressive feat by the Kings by any means. The Anaheim Ducks were never cup contenders with terrible D and goaltending so the fact that it took Los Angeles seven games to eliminate them is hilarious.
CTA: It’s not the Ducks. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the Hawks?
S: It’s a bad thing for a couple reasons. The Ducks have plenty of douchebags on their team but they don’t really injure players often so you wouldn’t have to worry about that like you do with Los Angeles. Los Angeles has better goaltending than Anaheim, so instead of the Blackhawks ending the series in four, they’ll be ending the series in five. Some people don’t like when their teams have too long of a break between playoff series so I guess this is okay; we all know what happened the last time Chicago beat LA in 5.
A terrible thing. Not necessarily for the Hawks themselves, although there’s no question Anaheim is an inferior team to L.A. and therefore would have been an easier matchup (although, again, the Kings are nothing the Hawks can’t handle), but it’s a terrible thing for Hawks fans who have to miss out on one of the greatest joys of the internet: Ducks fans having a twitter meltdown while their team loses to yours. This
is how their fans respond to losing a relatively meaningless regular season game in February. Laughing at their misery following the Hawks sweeping them out of the Western Conference Final would have sprung more than a few schadenfreude-induced boners. Oh well.
Thanks again to Staci & Derek, who you should follow on Twitter at and @fearthefin
Let’s go, Hawks!