May 11, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks centerJonathan Toews
(19) is congratulated after scoring a goal during the third period of game five of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center. Chicago won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
For the second time in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are playing the waiting game for their next post-season opponent. After dispensing the pesky Minnesota Wild in six games in the second round, the Blackhawks are now fortunate enough to grab some valuable rest during Game 7 tonight between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, the winner of which will face the Hawks in the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.
Once again as well, there is seemingly a preferable opponent fans want the Hawks to play in the next round: the LA Kings. With the Kings, the Hawks maintain home ice advantage, and needless to say, for the past couple years the Hawks have had their way with Los Angeles; bouncing them in five games in last year’s Western Conference Finals and sweeping them during this year’s regular season. What’s not to want?
However, with the LA Kings, I feel the Blackhawks may be getting a wolf in sheep’s clothing. During the past few post seasons the Kings have been a force to be reckoned with, but this year they are proving to be exceptionally dangerous. Hawks fans should know very well that any NHL team capable of clawing their way back from a three game hole in a playoffs series possesses a tenacious determination that can be near impossible to conquer.
This post season the Kings upset the Sharks and after starting the series 0-3 in the first round and could very well upset the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the second. Furthermore, the Kings are surging. Anze Kopitar leads post-season players with 17 points and Marian Gaborik also has the most goals in the playoffs with 8. It’s a safe bet the Kings are not the paper tiger most Hawks fans are familiar with, and I for one would prefer not to learn this fact the hard way.
Don’t get me wrong, the Blackhawks are certainly capable of beating the Kings and definitely hold certain advantages over Los Angeles, but I’d prefer they take the path of least resistance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and this year for the Hawks that path is through Anaheim. Yes, the Hawks would lose home ice advantage, but that’d be a small sacrifice in light of what they’d gain by playing the Ducks. Let me break it down:
For starters, should the Blackhawks start the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim, they’d be facing a very black and blued Ducks team. Thus far in the playoffs the Ducks have been put through quite a physical gauntlet. The Kings lead the post season with 596 hits, and there is still one game left to play in the seven game series. The Ducks would barely have time to set their bandages before taking on a much fresher Blackhawks team.
Furthermore for the #1 seeded team in the Western Conference , the Ducks haven’t been exactly blowing teams away in the playoffs. They had their hands full with an eighth seed Dallas Stars team (never beating them by more than a goal in the games they won), and dropped the first two games in the second round to the Kings, on their home ice nonetheless. Additionally, they’ve been struggling to consistently put pucks on net as of late. So needless to say should the Ducks advance, it won’t be with a lot of confidence.
More importantly, the Ducks have a bit of a conundrum on the crease. The big news out of this Cali series has been 20-year-old goalkeeper John Gibson, who posted a 28 save shut out in his NHL playoff debut. Since then he’s gone 1-1.
The full impact of John Gibson on the Ducks is a conversation for another day, but as far as the Blackhawks are concerned, should they play the Ducks, they’d be facing an unproven keeper with not even ten NHL-level games under his belt, as opposed to a Stanley Cup-winning, Olympian goalie in Jonathan Quick (even though they’ve handled him quite well before).
Moreover, the fact that Gibson is playing at all is telling of a Ducks team coming unhinged. A solid squad in the NHL needs to have a solid foundation up the center, namely between the pipes; changing the bricks during the playoffs of all times smacks of a coaching staff that has lost faith in their team to get the job done on a consistent basis and looking to shake things up, desperately so. So far this gamble has paid off for the Ducks, but we’ve yet to see how Gibson acts with his back against the wall, and if he can carry an entire series. If Gibson helps the Ducks advance, it shouldn’t be forgotten that rookies can only get away with so much for so long, especially against the Hawks’ league-leading offense.
The good news is the Blackhawks have been able to decisively handle both the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks during the regular season this year. However we all know how quickly the regular season can become meaningless during the playoffs. Ultimately, the Hawks have dethroned the Kings before in the post season and I’m confident they can do it again if they have to, but should the Hawks play the less-than-soaring Ducks next round, I’m sure that series will cause far fewer heart attacks than the Hawks’ previous two, and that’s something all Blackhawks fans would enjoy. I know I would..
FOR THE DAGGER!