Can we declare the Western Conference finals over yet? If this were a boxing match they'd call it a TKO after two rounds. That's how dominant the Chicago Blackhawks have been in sweeping their two home games against the Los Angeles Kings over the weekend by a combined score of 6-3. That may not sound all that dominant. but your eyes weren't lying. The Hawks gave the defending champs everything they could handle -- and then some.
Forget about shots on goal. That's what Kings coach Darryl Sutter would say as his team entered the conference finals with the lowest shots per game of any of the 16 playoff teams. Fine. Shots on goal might be overrated, taken out of context, but scoring chances are not. For what was supposed to be a tightly played series the Hawks have already had a series worth of good chances. Jonathan Quick is good, maybe great, but no goalie can withstand the Hawks onslaught when the chances are that good.
Think about it. Odd-man breaks, cycle plays, mini break-aways, power play tallies. They've all been a part of the Hawks offense and we're just getting to Game 3. Even when the Kings got their mojo going for a few minutes in the first period in Game 2, it didn't last. They've had a few spurts but nothing sustained. And more important, there is nothing that says they're going to find it -- even when returning home where they're perfect this postseason.
It's risky to count out a team down 2-0 in a Stanley Cup playoff series. Seeds don't matter, home-ice many times doesn't either. It can change on a dime, just as it did in the Kings' first round series against the St. Louis Blues when they overcame a 2-0 deficit. But this feels different. The Kings have no life. They're beat up thanks to the Blues and San Jose Sharks -- as well as Dave Bolland. Ask Sutter who he'd like to lose least to injury and Mike Richards would be at the top of the list. He's a 200-foot player and right now the Kings need him. A long flight and just a day between games isn't going to make Richards whole again, even if he does play on Tuesday. No, the odds are stacking up against the Kings and if the Hawks play their cards right they'll be the rested and healthy team come the final round.
Even if the Kings somehow hold serve in Los Angeles they're still faced with the task of bucking the odds away from home. Can any team play this poorly on the road and win a Cup? The Kings are 1-7 this postseason on the road, and granted their Game 5 win against the Blues in Round 1 was huge, but their lack of offense is striking. Where is captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and the rest of the stars? Are the Hawks that good at shutting down a team this late in the playoffs? Maybe. But maybe the answer is the Kings just don't have much left in the tank after winning the Cup and now squeezing by the first two rounds. The adrenaline in the tank might simply have run out -- just as the Hawks are finding their own.
Five wins in a row makes their 3-1 deficit to Detroit seem like a season ago. It's hard to know if something really clicked other than the Hawks finding the right compete level. In hindsight their series with Minnesota was both good and bad. It was good because it's left them with a healthy, energized team two rounds later but it was bad because the games felt like they do during the regular season. Coach Joel Quenneville knew this and openly wondered if the Hawks could get to a playoff level intensity before it was too late. It almost was.
So maybe the Kings will change everyone's minds. It wouldn't be the first time a team did a Jeckyll-and-Hyde going from the road to home. But it would simply be a surprise in this case. No, the Kings aren't looking like champs right now and the Hawks are. That's a tough combination to change all in a couple days. Over the course of about 30 hours the Hawks took firm hold of the Western Conference finals. The next 48 or so will determine if the Kings can escape the grip.
I don't think they can.