Kings may be judges of the earth, but wise men are the judges of kings — Solomon Ibn Gabirol
Let’s start with the patently obvious here: the President’s Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks will be heavily favored over the Los Angeles Kings in their upcoming Western Conference finals series, starting this Saturday night at the United Center.
Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews. Marian Hossa. Patrick Sharp. Duncan Keith. Brent Seabrook. Corey Crawford. Add a dash of Joel Quenneville, ask 22,103 bellicose louts to shake and stir to a fever pitch and you have all the ingredients necessary for Chicago to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.
Hockey is a game of inches, however, and protecting all 3,456 square ones that comprise a regulation-sized NHL net will be a huge key to victory in this series. With all due respect to Corey Crawford and his terrific play this season, there may be no better clutch goaltender than L.A.’s Jonathan Quick. Not coincidentally, he’s number one (some might say 2-5 as well) on the list of keys for Los Angeles. For the Kings to win this series, Quick will need to shut down Chicago’s high-octane offense. It bears repeating: Jonathan Quick must shut down the Blackhawks. Period.
Thus, with no further ado, the following are five keys to the Kings beating the Blackhawks in their impending playoff series.
#5: Los Angeles will have to flex their muscles
The Blackhawks enter the series with plenty of advantages over the Kings, including offense (2nd in the league), defense (1st) and penalty killing (3rd). One major edge the Kings have is their rugged physicality. Los Angeles threw 1,446 hits during the regular season, ranking second in in the NHL behind Toronto. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, finished dead last with a mere 840. In the playoffs, the Kings lead all teams with 536 hits, 237 more than Chicago.
Last year, the Kings’ hitting led directly to series victories over Vancouver and Phoenix, as Dustin Brown sent Henrik Sedin into the fourth dimension with a massive hit, and destroyed Michal Rozsival with a controversial check late in game five of the Western conference finals. The Sedin hit was fun, wasn’t it? Let’s watch it again:
Brown hasn’t influenced these playoffs quite like he did last year’s — yet. For Los Angeles to win, he and the other muscle-bound troglodytes on the Kings must impose their will on the fast, shifty, yet decidedly less physical Blackhawks.
#4: The Hollywood contingent must pump up their double D’s
Other than Jonathan Quick, no player on the Kings can take over a game quite like Drew Doughty. He plays a bazillion minutes a game, skates with the speed of a gazelle (on skates) and has a rocket shot. He’s played well in these playoffs, but “well” won’t get it done against Chicago. The Kings need Drew Doughty to do things like this:
For the Kings to advance, that Drew Doughty must come to play.
#3: The Kings need to learn how to draw
During the regular season, Los Angeles was fourth in the NHL on the draw, winning 52.0% of their opportunities. Chicago was solid at 50.8%, 11th overall in the league. Jarret Stoll was a huge factor in the Kings’ success at the dot, winning 56% of his chances to lead the team.
Stoll was knocked out of the series versus San Jose by a hit from Raffi Torres. Without him, the Kings sunk to a pathetic 45.7%, 14th out of the 16 playoff teams. Stoll practiced Thursday without a no-contact jersey for the first time in two weeks. If he can return for the Chicago series and play at a high level, Los Angeles should regain the edge on the draw, which could loom large in a close series.
#2: Will the real Anze Kopitar please stand up?
He’s one of the most gifted players in the NHL, a terrific combination of size, strength, speed, and hockey sense, with some of the best hands in the business. And yet, he has just two goals on 24 shots during this postseason. By comparison, he scored eight goals in 20 games during last year’s Cup run. Even with the magic of Jonathan Quick, the Kings cannot count on winning every game 2-1. Kopitar needs to crank up his offense.
For some reason, he’s taken to becoming the Slovenian Joe Thornton: pass first, shoot only when absolutely necessary. It may work for Jumbo and the Sharks, but Kopitar scored 34 goals as recently as 2009-10. Check out what he can do if he really wants to:
This is the Kopitar the Kings need to beat Chicago.
#1: Quick must be the king of Kings
Admittedly, his regular season stats weren’t eye-popping. However, now that he’s fully recovered from last offseason’s back surgery, Quick is the man in Los Angeles. They would be erecting statues and electing him mayor if more Angelenos actually paid attention to hockey, but that’s another subject for another day. In this series, he is the single most important player on the ice for the Kings, more so than Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty put together.
San Jose played a great brand of hockey in their series against the Kings. Some would argue they carried the play for longer stretches than did Los Angeles. How did the Kings win? A whole lot of this:
Quick is battle-tested, having backstopped the Kings to last year’s Cup. Crawford wasn’t in net when Chicago won the Cup in 2010. The distinction looms incredibly large as the series is set to begin.
The puck drops at 8:00 EDT at the United Center.