May 18, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) makes a save as Chicago Blackhawks center Michal Handzus (26) tries to get to the rebound during the second period in game one of the Western Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
With a Game 1 victory, the Chicago Blackhawks took the early advantage in the Western Conference Finals, against the Los Angeles Kings. It was by no means an easy victory, and with tonight’s Game 2 in Chicago being a precursor to two games, in Los Angeles, taking a 2-0 is of the utmost importance, to the Hawks.
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As you can see, the Kings have overall played better hockey, throughout the post-season, than the Blackhawks. However, that’s debatable considering that the Kings have had both of their previous series reach 7 games, and were in dire straits, in both. Their resiliency is something to keep an eye on, as is their solid play, in all facets of the game. With the very good posession stats, known solid, defensive play, and top-knotch goaltending, it is curious that the Kings have allowed a decent amount of goals, during the playoffs.
The Hawks haven’t been slouches by any means, as evidenced by the 1st period, during Game 1. They have played extremely well, on special teams, which has given them a huge edge so far, during the playoffs. They are averaging just under 3 goals per game and giving up an average just north of 2 goals per game. Combining that with excellent special teams, all-around, is enough to give the Hawks a sort of edge, even though they haven’t blown away in all other categories.
Other than getting off to a better start to the game, the Kings really don’t have to change much. After getting off to a slow start, the Kings dominated the 2nd period and were pretty much on par, with the Hawks, during the 3rd period of Game 1. Tyler Toffoli was a name many Hawks-faithful weren’t terribly familiar with, but are now, as he scored a goal, and narrowly missed a 2nd goal, during Game 1. Drew Doughty remains the driving force of the Kings’ attack and was vital in the Kings dominating the 2nd period. The top-line of Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Dustin Brown was ultimately neutralized, during Game 1, and will have to be more productive, if the Kings are going to win this series.
In net, for the Kings, will be Jonathan Quick. Quick wasn’t exactly great during Game 1, but don’t expect that to continue. His .850 Save Percentage is far below his .925 career Save Percentage, in the playoffs.
The Hawks will roll out the same lines that they used in Game 1, which of course means Andrew Shaw will once again be out, for Game 2. Keeping the Kopitar line quiet was the duty of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Bryan Bickell. While it isn’t impossible for them to find the back of the net, their job, in shutting down the Kings top-line is more important. The scoring is usually going to fall to the Hawks depth, and Power Play, which gives the Hawks a bit of an advantage. “Depth” players like Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, and hopefully Patrick Sharp are going to be relied on to pick up the offensive slack. The blueline can chip in, on offense as well. However, typical offensive pilot, Duncan Keith has not been driving possession, as he usually does, but that does not mean he has played poorly. Keith’s sound, responsible play, in his own zone is just as valuable as his puck-moving ability.
In net will be Corey Crawford, for the Hawks. Crawford has been nothing short of fantastic, this post-season. His .933 Save Percentage, this post-season, is an improvement over his already fantastic career playoff Save Percentage of .927.
A Game 2 win gives the Blackhawks some breathing room. Not that they should think of it as that, though. Once the series shifts to Los Angeles, for Games 3 and 4, the Kings will have last change, which gives them more control over the game’s matchups. This could give the Kings a big advantage. What the Hawks have that the Kings don’t is home-ice advantage, and the Hawks will need to take advantage of that, because that could be what ultimately decides who goes to the Stanley Cup Finals.