CHICAGO – For all the difficulties they endured along the way, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are still standing.
They might want to buckle up, though. The ride could get even wilder.
The Blackhawks and Kings are poised for what could be a tight and lengthy Western Conference finals, with Game 1 at the United Center on Saturday.
The Kings already have more playoff losses than they did a year ago when they went on a 16-4 run through the post-season to capture the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.
“I cited critical moments last year,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. “There were several of them this year where they were severely tested. They keep finding a way to fight through, as they’ve done at times during the playoffs. “
All they did was rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat Detroit in the conference semifinals, taking Game 7 by 2-1 on Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal to remain in the hunt for their second title in four years.
“You don’t draw it up, you don’t plan to win a seven-game series coming back from 3-1,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Looking back, I think it is a good thing for our team to have gone through what we just went through, to kind of be pushed to the end, for a moment (to) feel like that was it. You have certain negative thoughts that kind of creep in. You try not to think about them, that you’re up against a tough team and the odds are against you.
“But we stayed positive. We stuck with it. We just had that attitude that you take it one shift at the same time, you win one game at a time, anything can happen.”
The next challenge is a big one, too. No goalie is more on his game at the moment than the Kings’ Jonathan Quick. All the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has done is allow just 20 goals in 13 post-season games while carrying Los Angeles to its second straight conference final.
He leads the playoffs in goals-against average (1.50), save percentage (.948) and shutouts (three), and the Kings have needed it with their offence generating little.
They’re averaging just two goals per game in the post-season, and they realize they need to rediscover their scoring touch. That wasn’t an issue during the regular season, when they were 10th in the NHL and boasted the Western Conference’s top goal scorer in Jeff Carter.
Getting centre Jarret Stoll back would help. He suffered an apparent concussion on an illegal hit to the head in the series opener against San Jose and has been sidelined since. He skated with the team this week, but coach Darryl Sutter had no update Friday.
“He’s been our best faceoff guy all year, so that’s one of our strengths, and on the (penalty kill), even on the (power play) if he does play,” centre Anze Kopitar said. “It gives us a right-handed faceoff man that we didn’t have.”
Despite their difficulties putting the puck in the net, the Kings have gotten by. They dropped the first two games at St. Louis and needed seven to take out San Jose in the semifinals, with all four wins coming at home. It was a physical series that probably didn’t earn many style points. And to that, the Kings basically say so what.
“Well, I don’t really care what you think, if that has anything to do with it,” Sutter said. “Is that what they’re saying in Boston, too?”
Dustin Brown added: “We could bore you all to death. If we keep on winning, I could care less what people think of our game. We found something that’s successful for us as a group, and sometimes people don’t think it’s exciting. It depends on your opinion.”
Now, it’s the Blackhawks with the home-ice advantage and games on back-to-back days in their arena. Clearly, they see an opportunity there.
But they also had their difficulties with a physical Detroit team, and here come the hard-hitting Kings.
“Yeah. They’re big, and they do a good job protecting the net,” Patrick Sharp said. “They’re physical, as well, so we’ve got to be aware of that. Hopefully we can use our speed and our skill to kind of neutralize that, but this is all just talk. We’ll see what happens this series.”