The NHL’s Western Conference finals will have a fantastically familiar look with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks facing the Los Angeles Kings.
Chicago and Los Angeles have combined to win the last two Stanley Cups and three of the last four.
The Blackhawks beat the Kings in five games in the 2013 conference finals and swept the season series. It is the first time the Western Conference finals have had a rematch since Dallas defeated Colorado in 1999 and 2000.
Here are five things to watch when the Blackhawks begin the series Sunday afternoon at home against the Kings.
COMEBACK KINGS: Chicago may have an advantage in the series opener because it will be rested and at home against a team that was given only one day off after winning a second straight Game 7. But even if the Blackhawks win the first three games or hold a 3-2 series lead, don’t count out the Kings. Just ask San Jose and Anaheim. Los Angeles rallied after losing the first three games to defeat the rival Sharks in four straight and closed the second round with two victories in a row against the top-seeded Ducks. Adding up the comebacks, the Kings are 6-0 when playing on the brink of elimination.
SWEET HOME CHICAGO: The Blackhawks are 6-0 at home in this post-season, outscoring St. Louis and Minnesota 22-8. They are 17-2 at the United Center in the playoffs over the past two seasons, winning by a 63-31 combined margin. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is a master at using the last line change to create advantages for his team, such as putting two-way Jonathan Toews against high-scoring forwards. If the Kings can’t find a way to win in the Windy City, their run will end against the Blackhawks again.
PAGING PATRICK SHARP: Chicago has gotten key contributions from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell in the first two rounds. So far, Patrick Sharp has been held in check. He has two goals and four assists in the post-season after scoring a team-high 34 goals with a team- and career-high 78 points in the regular season. Sharp, though, has played well against the Kings in his career. He is averaging more than a point in 34 games, including the post-season, against Los Angeles.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Corey Crawford has been very good, giving up fewer than two goals a game, for the Blackhawks. If Crawford can help Chicago advance, he might finally get more respect. Quick has been shaky at times, giving up a total of 20 goals in four of his losses, and simply spectacular when the Kings have faced elimination. In those six situations this post-season, Quick has allowed just more than one goal a game. He is 3-0 in his career in Game 7s.
INJURY REPORT: Both teams will get a boost if banged-up players can get healthy enough to play. The Kings eliminated the Ducks without a pair of veteran defencemen, Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Regehr was hurt early in the series opener against Anaheim and Mitchell hasn’t played since Game 6 against the Sharks. Chicago is hoping it can count on forward Andrew Shaw to come back. He hasn’t played since early in Game 1 against the Wild. In a playoff tradition, teams are not disclosing details about injuries.
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in Chicago contributed to this report.
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