The Chicago Blackhawks are only 7 wins away from a repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, but the end goal shouldn’t be the main focus for the team; a win on Sunday afternoon gave them the 1-0 series advantage over the Los Angeles Kings, who are back in the Western Conference Final, looking for their own ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. The ‘Hawks will need everything they have if they want to move on, so below, we point out three important aspects the Blackhawks will have to nail down to get to the big dance.
#3: Keep The Home Cooking Coming
With another win at the U.C. on Sunday, the Blackhawks are now 7-0 at the Madhouse in these playoffs. Playing against a Kings team that saw most of their wins in their 2012 Stanley Cup run come on the road, it will be crucial for the ‘Hawks to pick up victories in Game Two, Five, and Seven, if the last two are necessary. The Staples Center will be a tough building to play in when the series shifts to SoCal, so getting a 2-0 advantage will be a huge safety net for the club as they hit the road, and a special treat for the best hockey fans in the league.
#2: Depth Charge
The Blackhawks have some of the most skilled bottom-six players in the league, and their depth is something that many analysts have preached GM Stan Bowman on assembling. However, the bottom-six hasn’t been as volatile as usual since the first round, and they will have to break out of this recent dry spell if they want to keep up with their Los Angeles counterparts. Although Dustin Brown was up in the lineup on Sunday night, if he moves back to his usual placement on the third line, it will be up to someone other than Jonathan Toews to take care of the Kings’ captain, and the danger he possesses. Marcus Kruger will need to be on top of his defensive game, and Ben Smith will have to try to replicate the play of Michael Frolik that was oh-so-timely in the 2013 playoffs. If the Hockey Gods are feeling extra gracious, perhaps even Brandon Bollig will notch his third point since signing a big contract mid-season. The Kings will be looking at their bottom-six for an edge in the series, and if the Blackhawks deny them the right, there is a good chance Chicago will take the Kings in short order.
#1: Win The Coaching Battle
Behind the benches of these two teams are two of the greatest hockey minds in the NHL, Joel Quenneville, and Darryl Sutter. Both bring their habits, quirkyness, and most importantly, Stanley Cup winning-experience to each dressing room. Coach Q will have to out-duel Sutter when it comes to zone starts, and key match-ups, particularly who is playing against the Kings’ Anze Kopitar, who has nearly all of their offense from the first two rounds. The backs of Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa better be strong enough to carry the load, as Q is reluctant to gibe the bottom-six any time against the Kings’ top guns in this series, something we saw often one year ago. Until the Depth Charge finally takes place, keeping Kopitar under wraps, and Keith from exhaustion, is going to be a calculating task meant for only the best, but the best is exactly what Joel Quenneville is.
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks