With Detroit heading to exit interviews and the golf courses this weekend, the Blackhawks (and their fans) now turn their attentions to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
How does the teams match-up heading into the series? Let’s take a look.
The Goaltenders: Corey Crawford vs Jonathan Quick
- Postseason numbers:
Quick: 8-5, 1.50 goals against average, .948 save percentage, 3 shutouts
Crawford: 8-4, 1.70 goals against average, .938 save percentage, 1 shutout
- Regular season numbers:
Quick: 18-13-4, 2.45 GAA, .902 sv pct, 1 shutout
Crawford: 19-5-5, 1.94 GAA, .926 sv pct, 3 shutouts
Of course, the statistic many fans will point to immediately is the number of Stanley Cup rings the two netminders have won. Quick has one, from 12 months ago; Crawford has none.
At this point in the postseason, Quick is the only netminder with a better goals against average than Crawford. Quick and Pittsburgh’s Tomas Vokoun, who has only played in seven games, are the only two with a better save percentage.
Indeed, the two netminders are the front-runners for the Conn Smythe in the Western Conference Finals.
Something to remember, though, is that what has become expected from Quick over the last 14 months is far from the first two postseasons on his resume. Quick’s postseason career began with two six-game series losses. Before the 2012 playoffs, Quick had a career postseason save percentage of .900, and his goals against was over three in both playoff series.
Quick came into his own in 2012.
Is 2013 the year Crawford takes the next step? His performance against Detroit certainly showed that he’s able to play at the level of, and defeat, a very good goaltender and solid offensive team. Now, he’ll get a shot at the hottest netminder in the game and the defending Cup champs.
Chicago enjoyed offensive success against the Kings during the regular season, and the scoring was led by the Hawks’ superstars. In three games, Jonathan Toews had six points (three goals, three assists) while Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane had two goals each and Patrick Sharp had one.
Los Angeles will bring a similar physical, strong all-around approach to their top six to what the Hawks saw from Detroit. Anze Kopitar is one of the better defensive forwards in the league, and Hawks fans are familiar with the quality Mike Richards and Jeff Carter bring to postseason play from 2010 when they were in Philadelphia. Dustin Brown is one of the best physical forwards in the league as well.
Where the Blackhawks might have the biggest advantage heading into the conference finals is with the speed of their bottom six forwards.
So far in these playoffs, the Blackhawks have received outstanding contributions from all over their forward lines. Whether he’s been on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg or skating with Hossa and Michal Handzus, Bryan Bickell has become the wrecking ball fans had been desperately hoping to see for the last three years. Bickell has as many goals in the postseason – five – as Hossa; Carter, LA’s leader, has five.
Dustin Penner has had a solid playoffs for the Kings to date, but he’ll struggle to keep up with anyone but Handzus on the Hawks roster. Certainly the speed of Shaw, Stalberg and Brandon Saad will present some match-up headaches for the Kings.
As was the case against Detroit, the top-six forwards in this series might cancel each other out statistically. If the winner of the Western Conference is determined by the bottom half of the roster, the Hawks have an edge.
The X-Factor: Special Teams
Fans in Chicago are well aware of how
average mediocre frustratingly bad the Hawks powerplay has been this year, and that has continued into the postseason. However, they won’t be alone in that regard in the conference finals.
Through two rounds of the playoffs:
- the Blackhawks have scored 6 goals in 37 powerplays (16.2 percent).
- the Kings have scored 7 goals in 35 powerplays (20 percent).
It’s worth noting that three of LA’s seven postseason powerplay goals came in Game Two against San Jose; they scored twice in 13 powerplays in the final five games of that series.
Where the Blackhawks have a significant advantage heading into the conference finals is on penalty kill. Of the four remaining teams in the postseason, only the Kings have taken more penalties than the Blackhawks.
Through the first two rounds:
- the Blackhawks have allowed 1 goal against 41 powerplays (97.6 percent)
- the Kings have allowed 6 goals against 43 powerplays (86.0 percent)
The Hawks PK unit has been among the best in recent years this postseason, and came up big against Detroit.
This will be another heavyweight battle between two of the last three Stanley Cup champions. Both teams come in after winning an emotional Game Seven, and both are riding a hot goaltender. Who will win?
Prediction: Hawks in 6