(Photo: NBCprohockeytalk.com)

Sunday, the best of the west face off on their Stanley Cup quest.

Each vying for a coveted spot in the final, the last two teams to raise Lord Stanley–the Chicago Blackhawks and L.A. Kings–are fighting for the Western Conference crown.

The Blackhawks, who took the Minnesota Wild in six games, have home ice advantage and a few days’ rest. The Kings, on the other hand, have the momentum of a 6-2 Game 7 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

The Hawks beat the Kings in five games last year, going on to defeat the Boston Bruins for the ultimate prize.

“We’re excited about coming here. We talked about this all year,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “They’re the last team to beat us in the playoffs. They’re the team that has the Cup. If we want another shot at it. We knew it was probably going to have to be down this road.”

Winger Justin Williams said the Blackhawks “had their number” last year. “But we certainly want to get back to the finals,” he added. “And to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. They’re the best right now.”

Chicago is the highest-seeded team left in the race. And so far this season, Chicago has defeated L.A. in each of their three meetings, winning 3-1 Dec. 15, 1-0 Dec. 30, and 5-3 Feb. 3.

But, none of that matters now. Higher-seeded teams have already been eliminated. And, the playoffs are a whole new puck-game.

“I think it’s tough to compare year to year, even regular season to playoffs,” Brent Seabrook said. “[The Kings are] playing really well right now, so we’ve got to be focused on what they’ve been doing the last couple of series and the way they’re playing. Seems like they’re never out of a game or out of a series.

“If we’re down, we got to work like hell to get back. At the end of the day we have to focus on our game and focus on what we’ve been doing, get better at that and be the team that we can be.”

Chicago-style Hot Dogs

Captain Jonathan Toews has five goals (fifth in the league) and five assists. Patrick Kane has been putting on a show. He has 10 points, with six goals (third in the league) and four assists.

“Every team has those tough guys that you relish going up and playing against. Some guys are tougher than others. These two in particular are going to be really tough for our ‘D,’ our forwards, as well,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “I look forward to playing against Toews and Kane, and keeping them off the score sheet to the best of my ability.
“It’s going to be a battle, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Bryan Bickell has been hot in the postseason as well, tied with Kane for goals, but with three assists. Marian Hossa leads the team in points with two goals and nine assists (fourth in the league).

Even the defensemen are pitching in. Seabrook (two goals, nine assists) is tied with Hossa in points.

Duncan Keith has two goals and six assists; he also has an average 27 minutes of ice time per game. Niklas Hjalmarsson is a shot-blocking machine, even without his voice–after blocking a shot with his throat in the Wild series. Plus, Hossa and Toews are among the top defensive forwards in the league.

Unfortunately, center Andrew Shaw remains out with an injury suffered after a hit in Game 1 of the Wild series.

All the Kings’ Men

Center Anze Kopitar has a stellar five goals (sixth in the league) and 14 assists (first) in the Kings’ 14-game postseason. Marian Gaborik leads the league with nine goals. He has six assists. Jeff Carter has four goals and seven assists. Justin Williams has five goals (sixth) and six assists. And, that’s just one line.

“Gaborik, the way he skates, definitely poses a threat and a problem,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp said. ” Then you have Williams, who is a great finisher. He’s got a lot of experience. He knows how to step up and play big in big games. I think they got a little bit of everything on that line. We’re going to have to be ready to play them tight, hard, physical–play our game against them.”

Doughty has one goal and eight assists (sixth in the league). Jake Muzzin has seven points.

Between the Pipes

Corey Crawford tops the league right now with a .931 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average. He’s saved-the-way for the Blackhawks through the first two rounds.

Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, on the other hand, has a .914 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average. But, just as Kane and Crawford are clutch for the Hawks, Quick epitomizes clutch for the Kings. In the six potential season-enders, Quick has a .956 save percentage.

Danger Zones

The trouble for Chicago may come if the series reaches a Game 7, where three Kings forwards (Gaborik, Mike Richards, and Williams) now have personal 6-0 records in the playoff do-or-die games.

Williams has six goals and 12 points in Game Sevens. All three have scored goals in the games.

 

Fortunately for Chicago, the closed Round One against the Blues in six games as well as Round Two against the Wild.

Puck Drops and Other News

The winner of the Western Conference best-of-seven series will go on to play the winner of the New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers have a 1-0 series lead after beating the Canadiens in Montreal Saturday.
First comes first, the tentative schedule is as follows:

Game 1 Sun, May 18 2:00 p.m. CT United Center NBC
Game 2 Wed, May 21 7:00 p.m. CT United Center NBCSN
Game 3 Sat, May 24 7:00 p.m. CT Staples Center NBC
Game 4 Mon, May 26 8:00 p.m. CT Staples Center NBCSN
Game 5 Wed, May 28 7:00 p.m. CT United Center NBCSN (if necessary)
Game 6 Fri, May 30 8:00 p.m. CT Staples Center NBCSN (if necessary)
Game 7 Sun, June 1 7:00 p.m. CT United Center NBCSN (if necessary)

It’s sure to be an exciting matchup, Because it’s the Cup.

 

Carly Mullady grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.

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