CHICAGO – On Friday night, the Los Angeles Kings were in Anaheim for Game 7 of their second-round series against the top-seeded Ducks.
On Saturday, they travelled 1,700 miles to Chicago on the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Not much rest for Los Angeles, but certainly better than the alternative.
The Kings will take on the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon in a short turnaround from their series-clinching 6-2 victory over Anaheim. It is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals, when the Blackhawks won in five games on the way to their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.
“I’m not sure about the energy part of it,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Saturday, “but I know how we handle losses and how we handle wins and how we handle travel, so you know they’re going to be honest in their preparation. You can trust that part of it.
“It’ll be certainly about putting forth their best effort, I know that.”
Los Angeles is making its third consecutive appearance in the Western Conference finals after the Kings rallied past San Jose and Anaheim in the first two series. The Sharks had a 3-0 lead in the first round, and the Ducks led 3-2 in their series against the Kings.
Chicago has been waiting for its next opponent since it beat Minnesota 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks had a similar break after they eliminated St. Louis in the first round.
“I think the days off helps every team this time of year, get some rest, allows you to prepare for your opponent,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. “At the end of the day, once that puck drops, I think both teams are going to be ready to play.”
The break also provided more time for Chicago forward Andrew Shaw to get healthy. The tenacious centre missed the final five games of the Wild series with an apparent right leg injury, but he skated before the Blackhawks practiced on Saturday and could return after Game 1 against the Kings.
Los Angeles is hoping for the return of injured defencemen Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Mitchell has missed eight games, but is skating again. Sutter said he could return against Chicago.
“You have a muscle injury that was related to a knee injury,” Sutter said after practice at the team’s facility in El Segundo, California. “Can’t (be) one of those deals where you get a guy for five minutes. You need to know that you get him for the whole game.”
The status of Shaw, Regehr and Mitchell could be a factor in a matchup of the NHL’s second-highest scoring team in Chicago and the stingiest team in the league in Los Angeles.
“They’re obviously defending champs, and we want to take that back,” Kings forward Jarret Stoll said. “We know what it takes to win and we’ve tasted that and it tastes pretty good. So we want to get it back from them.”
Los Angeles was the defending champion when it took on Chicago in the playoffs last year. But the banged-up Kings were unable to keep up with the high-flying Blackhawks, who got a hat trick from Patrick Kane in the clinching double-overtime victory in Game 5.
Chicago is 9-2 against Los Angeles over the past two years, outscoring the Kings 35-24.
“They’re playing really well right now so we’ve got to be focused on what they’ve been doing the last couple series,” Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “They’re never out of a game or a series. If we get up, we have to step on their throats. If we’re down, we have to work like hell to get back.
“But at the end of the day we have to play our game and focus on what we’ve been doing well throughout the playoffs, get better at that and be the team that we can be.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap