Battle For The West
Superior team with home ice will win
The Chicago Blackhawks haven't become a team of destiny. Let's not go there.
The Blackhawks won't defeat the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals just because they faced three elimination games against the Detroit Red Wings and rallied from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history.
The Blackhawks should be knocked for losing three consecutive games to the inferior Red Wings and applauded for winning three straight. Nothing more.
But now that the Blackhawks have moved on, they have new life and restart with zero wins and losses, just as the Kings do in the series. And when you place the two teams side by side, the Blackhawks should defeat the Kings and advance to the Stanley Cup finals, because they're the better team.
Many have pointed to Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick as the potential difference in the series. But as good as Quick has been -- and he's been really good -- Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford hasn't been that far off.
Quick has a 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage, and Crawford has a 1.70 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in the playoffs. The Kings' advantage isn't sizable there.
The Blackhawks are coming off a series where they faced a hot goaltender, and they figured out a way to disturb the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard. The Blackhawks got to the net more, created traffic around Howard and cashed in for 10 goals over the final three games. Expect the same approach with Quick.
The Kings also aren't likely going to repeat the power-play success they had against the San Jose Sharks in the second round. Five of the Kings' 14 goals against the Sharks came with a man advantage. The Blackhawks have given up just one power-play goal in 41 chances in the playoffs. The Kings will need to find other ways to score.
And ultimately, the Blackhawks still own home-ice advantage. The Blackhawks are 5-1 at the United Center in the playoffs, and the Kings are 1-5 on the road. This isn't the same Kings team that went 10-1 on the road in the playoffs last season.
There's no doubt that the Kings will put up a fight as they try to defend the Stanley Cup, but the Blackhawks should be able to march on as long as they continue to play their game.
Scott Powers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com.
L.A., Quick built for the playoffs
The Los Angeles Kings found out pretty early in the season how good the Chicago Blackhawks were. They had the displeasure of opening the season against the Blackhawks, whose 5-2 win spoiled the Kings' first championship banner-raising ceremony.
Chicago went on to set an NHL points record in the first 24 games of the season, while the Kings stumbled out of the blocks at 14-10-2. That's nothing unusual for the Kings, who won the Stanley Cup last season as the No. 8 seed and look to repeat this year as the No. 5 seed.
As good as the Blackhawks were during the regular season, the Kings are built for the playoffs. The Blackhawks will soon find that out during the Western Conference finals. If they thought Detroit's Jimmy Howard was tough to beat between the pipes, they haven't seen anything yet.
Jonathan Quick is playing just as well as he did last season in winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and leading the Kings to an incredible 16-4 record in the playoffs. Quick is once again the best goaltender in the postseason, leading the league in goals-against average (1.50), save percentage (.948), shutouts (three) and wins (eight). It could easily be argued that he's playing better than he did last season despite the Kings already losing more games (five) than they did all of last postseason (four).
A lot will be made about the Kings' inability to win on the road, but the Kings beat the Blackhawks 5-4 in Chicago the last time they played (two months ago). And the Kings' past nine games on the road have been decided by just one goal, with four of those games being decided after regulation.
The breaks haven't gone their way recently away from Staples Center, but they'll find a way to get a split this weekend and close it out at home -- where they have won 14 straight -- in six games.
Arash Markazi writes for ESPNLosAngeles.com.