Three days ago I gave you my pick to come out on top in the Eastern Conference, which you can read all about here, and now I’m back to do the same for the Western Conference Final. Much like in the East, I feel the two best teams throughout the season in the West, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, were the ones that rightfully ended up in the final. This should also be an awesome series and even though it may get less media attention than the Eastern Conference Final, I don’t think it’ll be any less entertaining. Now let’s take a look at each of the teams that made it here.
Chicago has home ice advantage and are the early favourites, though don’t tell that to Los Angeles. The Blackhawks are stacked from top to bottom, having a well-rounded offense lead by stars such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp, while the defense is rock solid as well with a great top pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, followed by excellent depth in Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Nick Leddy. They also have excellent defensive forwards such as Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. Then there’s even more offense from the likes of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, and Brandon Saad.
In goal they’re lead by Corey Crawford, who has been having an outstanding bounce back season this year. He’s been arguably the best goaltender in the playoffs thus far and has probably been Chicago’s best player period up to this point. It’s looking unlikely he’ll falter, but if for some reason that should happen, the Blackhawks have a pretty solid backup, Ray Emery, lying in wait.
Despite the fact that Chicago curb stomped everyone during the regular season on the way to the Presidents’ Trophy, they haven’t had it quite so easy in the playoffs, at least at times anyway. Minnesota gave them a bit of a scare early, taking two of the first three games to overtime and winning one of them, but Chicago took control soon after. Then against Detroit, Chicago seemed to dominate when they won, but looked awful in their losses. This lack of consistency would certainly spell trouble against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Kings also have an amazing combination of defense and goaltending that the Blackhawks haven’t come close to facing thus far, so if the lack of production from some of their stars continues (I’m looking at you Toews), things could get ugly. Nonetheless, the Blackhawks, at least on paper, have too much strength to pick against, right?
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are a slight underdog in this series, but in many circles they’re considered the favourites for a number of reasons, the first of which is that they’re the defending champions and to be the best you have to beat the best. More important though is the fact that they’re the best defensive team in the league and have a world class goaltender to go along with it. Drew Doughty anchors an elite group of defensemen that’s rounded out by Slava Voynov, Robyn Regehr, Rob Scuderi, and Jake Muzzin. These guys make it an epic struggle for any offense to take advantage of and if by some chance they do, they then have to deal with Jonathan Quick. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is back at it again, providing the Kings with sensational goaltending, despite a few hiccups along the way.
Up front the Kings haven’t been getting as much offense as they should be from their stars, but nonetheless they have an excellent crop of forwards that can get the job done collectively. Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams have all played a role in getting them this far, while LA has also received great minutes from guys like Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, and Dustin Penner. The Kings miss Jarret Stoll down the middle, but they’re hoping he doesn’t miss too many more games.
The Kings have already beaten a pair of great to excellent teams, coming from behind to knock off the Blues, a team that likely could have beaten anyone else in the first round, and the Sharks, an underrated squad this season. That makes them more prepared for this matchup than Chicago. However, the biggest question mark they face is do they have enough offense to beat the Blackhawks? Personnel wise they do, as they have a ton of guys capable of putting the puck in the net, but the problem is they haven’t been doing it often enough to this point. Players such as Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown will really need to step up and lead the way if they hope to move on.
I’ve got a feeling this series is going to be even nastier than the Eastern Conference Final. The Kings play a more physical game, but the Blackhawks have some heavy hitters as well and won’t shy away from it. Chicago has the edge offensively, but I’ve gotta give Los Angeles the advantage on defense and in goal, especially when you factor in their more recent playoff experience. That experience factor is enough for me to see them make a return trip to the finals and truly defend their crown.
Kings in 7.