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2013 NHL Western Conference Finals Preview: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Graham Jenkins |
June 1, 2013 | 1:48 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Patrick Sharp leads the Blackhawks with seven goals in the playoffs. (DTKindler Photo/Creative Commons).
Patrick Sharp leads the Blackhawks with seven goals in the playoffs. (DTKindler Photo/Creative Commons).
After surviving a hard-fought seven game series against the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings are still alive in defending their 2012 Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for the Kings, they have to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals.

No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings

Series Series

  • Blackhawks won 2-1-0
Key Players
Both the Blackhawks and the Kings played difficult seven-game series against their opponents in the last round. The Kings won all four of their games at home against the Sharks, but could not steal a victory from the Sharks in San Jose. The Blackhawks fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the series, but had a lot more trouble getting pucks past the Detroit Red Wings' Jimmy Howard than they thought they would.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, Jonathan Quick has been the best goaltender yet again in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Kings, the Blackhawks have one of the most prolific offenses in the league, and they really love controlling the puck during all crucial points in the game.
The goaltender matchup between Chicago and Los Angeles favors Los Angeles in this series. Quick leads all goaltenders in the playoffs with a stellar 1.50 goals against average (GAA) and a .948 save percentage. He has three shutouts in the postseason, including two against the Sharks. On the opposite side of the rink, Crawford has performed in the playoffs slightly better than he did during the regular season, sporting a 1.70 GAA and a .938 save percentage. Crawford's GAA is second in the playoffs behind Quick, and his save percentage is third in the playoffs behind Quick and Pittsburgh's Tomas Vokoun.
Both goaltenders in this series are capable of carrying their teams, but if someone was to bet who would steal the series, (s)he would look at Quick.
As good as the Chicago Blackhawks have been during even strength, the same cannot be said about their power play. During the regular season, they converted 16.7 percent of their power play opportunities, and in the playoffs, they have converted 16.2 percent of their chances. It has been consistently average.
It won't be any easier for the Blackhawks against the Kings in that department, as Los Angeles shut down a very strong Sharks power play, surrendering four power play goals, all in San Jose, the entire series after the Sharks scored seven against the Canucks in the first round.
On the other side of the special teams spectrum, the Blackhawks have the best penalty killing unit in the playoffs at 97.6 percent, killing off 40 penalties while being shorthanded 41 times. The Kings' power play scored five goals against the Sharks in the second round, dramatically increasing its efficiency from 13.3 percent at the start of the series to 20 percent afterwards. At the rate the Blackhawks are killing penalties, it will be very difficult for the Kings to generate offense on the man advantage.
Offensively, Patrick Sharp leads the team with seven goals during the playoffs, which also ties Sidney Crosby with the league lead in goals scored. His career high for playoff goals is 11, which he accomplished in the 2009-2010 playoffs.
One player the Blackhawks would really like to regain his scoring touch is Jonathan Toews, who has one goal on 37 shots during the playoffs. The fact that the Blackhawks have gotten to the Western Conference Finals without substantial point production from their regular season point leader shows how deep this team is.

Slava Voynov leads all Kings defensemen with four goals during the playoffs. (tsyp9/Creative Commons)
Slava Voynov leads all Kings defensemen with four goals during the playoffs. (tsyp9/Creative Commons)
For the Kings, Jeff Carter leads the team with five goals, and Slava Voynov is not far behind Carter with four goals of his own, three of which have been game-winners. Mike Richards leads the team in overall points with 10, courtesy of two goals and eight assists.

Ultimately, the team who controls the puck the most during even strength in this series will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Statistically, the Blackhawks dominate this facet of the game and play their best hockey during even strength.
Overall, when the game is considered "close" (when the score is within two goals), the Blackhawks attempt 55 percent of the game's total shots, meaning they are spending the majority of the game in the opposition's zone. While teams tend to relent a little bit when they have a two-goal lead, the Blackhawks actually keep their foot on the gas, directing 60 percent of the game's total shots at the opposing net when having a two-goal lead. When the Blackhawks have been down by two goals, they have taken 61.54 percent of the game's total shots at the net in order to try and cut the opposition's lead.
The fact that the Blackhawks control the puck dramatically more when up by two and down by two will prove to be a problem for the Kings. Overall during the playoffs, the Kings have directed 49.68 percent of the game's total shots, meaning they have not held onto the puck more than their opposition at even strength. The biggest area of concern for the Kings is their puck possession with a two-goal lead, as they've directed a mere 31.25 percent of the game's total shots when they have had a two-goal lead. That means the opposition has directed 68.75 percent of the game's shots at Jonathan Quick when the Kings have had a two-goal lead, and the Kings have spent less time trying to build on their lead. As good as Quick is, that is too dangerous of a game to play against the Blackhawks.
The best chance the Kings will have against the Blackhawks will be when they play at home, as the Kings are 26-4-1 at Staples Center during the regular season and the playoffs, and have not lost a game at home during the playoffs. One of those regular season losses, however, was to the Blackhawks on Opening Day back in January, but that has to be disregarded because how much the Kings dramatically improved during the season. On the road during the playoffs, however, the Kings are 1-5, and if they cannot fix that against the Blackhawks, who are 6-1 at United Center, they will not survive.
If there is a team left in the playoffs that can beat the Kings, it is the Blackhawks, and I believe they will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals when all is said and done.
Prediction: Chicago in 6.
You can reach Staff Writer Graham Jenkins here, or follow him on Twitter.



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