Despite their early-season struggles, the Los Angeles Kings were selected by a lot of people to be here. Early dominance had everyone assuming the Chicago Blackhawks would be here. Neither team had the second round they probably would have liked, as both were forced to seven games by lower seeds. They are both here, however, in the 2013 Western Conference Final, which begins on Saturday evening in Chicago.
The Blackhawks had an easy first round. An overtime victory was all they gave up in a five-game sendoff of the Minnesota Wild. They probably didn't even have everything in first gear. However, they needed to step it up in the semifinals, as the Detroit Red Wings pushed them to the brink after taking a 3-1 series lead. Chicago came back, won three straight and dispatched their rivals in overtime in Game 7. Brent Seabrook was the hero as the Blackhawks got back to the conference final for the first time since their Stanley Cup-winning 2009-10 season.
The Kings have seemingly been on the brink in both of their first two rounds. The defending Stanley Cup champs began their 2013 playoff run by losing two-consecutive games to the St. Louis Blues. They were one-goal losses, but the Kings appeared to be out-hit and they made casual mistakes. From there, they went into overdrive, winning six in a row. They finished off the Blues and had an early lead on the San Jose Sharks. San Jose came back, however, and forced a seven-game series in which every game was won by the home team that had scored the first goal. The Kings got a one-goal win in Game 7 and continue their hopes for a repeat.
This series is a battle between the two best defensive teams in the playoffs. Los Angeles has given up 1.54 goals per game, while Chicago has given up 1.83. The Blackhawks have scored 2.75 goals per game, while the Kings have scored an even 2.0. The two teams have celebrated talents on offense and defense, however, and can likely keep up however the game is played. Game 1 should be very interesting.
Will the schedule be a factor?
Because of The Rolling Stones presence at Chicago's United Center this week, this series couldn't begin until Saturday. That means these two teams are stuck starting two games in the span of 27 hours before taking a trip out to the west coast. There will be no two-day break at any point in this series. After a condensed schedule and a crazy first two rounds, will this schedule finally get to some of the players? Will the time zone changes matter? Remember, the Blackhawks have largely stayed within their region in the first two rounds, while the Kings played St. Louis in round one.
Can Corey Crawford top Jonathan Quick?
The top-three goaltenders in save percentage during this post-season remain: Quick, Crawford and Tomas Vokoun. Quick and Crawford are one and two in goals against average, respectively. Quick, however, is decidedly tops in every stat. Ever since a shaky start in St. Louis, he has been in 2012 form, which is frightening for any team going up against him. Corey Crawford must out-play him if the Hawks are to win this series. He was great during the Blackhawks come back against the Red Wings, but allowed a couple bad goals along the way. Those bad goals can't happen against the Kings.
If the Blackhawks get their offensive game going, can the Kings keep up?
On the other hand, the Blackhawks are capable of finding a real offensive groove. They've scored 33 goals in 12 games this post-season, vs. 26 in 13 for the Kings. Kane and Toews are still stuck on three goals combined. If you get those two going, along with the red-hot Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, they can pile up on you in a hurry. The Kings have guys like Richards, Kopitar, Carter and Brown, but will they be able to beat an underrated Hawks defense and goaltending to play that kind of game?
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports Network, TSN