Okay, so maybe using the word “victim” is premature. But with the way the Chicago Blackhawks have been playing in their first two series, it would seem as though they are the clear favorites to hoist Lord Stanley once again. Tonight, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks face off in the Western Conference Semifinals, Game 7, with the right to face the Hawks in the Western Conference Finals on the line. There hasn’t been much separation from these two teams on the ice, whose arenas are also separated by just 30 miles of Interstate 6 in southern California. So who do the Blackhawks want to win tonight’s game 7, the Kings or Ducks? Here’s a quick guide.
Playoff Games Played
The Ducks will have played 13 games in the playoffs vs the Kings having played the maximum 14 so far. The Kings had to battle back from a 3-0 hole in round 1 against San Jose, becoming just the 4th team in NHL history to pull off the “Reverse Sweep.” I’m thinking they will be a little more weary from these two series, even though they haven’t left the State of California for a game since April 10th. Tonight will also be their 6th elimination game they have played in these playoffs. That’s an astronomical number.
Hawks Preference: Kings
Home Ice Advantage
It’s simple: If the Kings win tonight, the Hawks get home ice advantage (and would have the same for the Stanley Cup Finals, if they should get there). If the Ducks win, Chicago jumps on a plane on Saturday and Games 1 (Sunday), 2, 5 and 7 would be in California. No matter what, the Hawks are flying across much of the country a couple times, but they’d certainly rather start things off in the Madhouse on Madison.
The Kings also do have a home ice advantage over Anaheim. Because of their recent success, the Kings do have a strong following that gets rowdy for games. I haven’t exactly heard of the Honda Center being described as rowdy in the last several years. And at least as of 10:45AM Eastern time, Anaheim hasn’t sold out the stadium for tonight’s Game 7 yet, so … uh … does anyone have a last minute plane ticket for me? There’s still time!
Hawks Preference: Kings
Season Record and Familiarity
The last time the Hawks played the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks in the playoffs? Never. Don’t fret, though. If the two teams do play, it will still be a very heated and physical series, but there just isn’t the history (and very recent history) that the Hawks have with St. Louis, Minnesota and Los Angeles. The Hawks went 2-1 against Anaheim this season, with the one loss being of the shootout variety, and both wins being of the 2-goal variety. However, the teams haven’t played each other since February 5th (a 2-0 Hawks win), and since then, a lot has changed for both teams.
En route to their Stanley Cup Championship last year, the Hawks beat the LA Kings 4 games to 1 in the Western Conference Finals, which happened to end with a Patrick Kane overtime goal (sound familiar?). This one was of the third-goal-of-the-hattrick, one-timed, double overtime, game-winning variety, but it sent the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Finals, nonetheless. This season, the Hawks went 3-0 against LA including a shutout, but but also haven’t played the Kings since February 3rd. Knowing what a team does in the playoffs is crucial, and the Hawks would rather face the familiar Kings starting Sunday.
Hawks Preference: Kings
On Ice Personnel
I’m not going to stretch on this one. It’s as simple as John Gibson vs Johnathan Quick. Ironically, both goalies are USA Hockey guys. John Gibson has tended the twine for Team USA in the recent World Junior Championships and Johnathan Quick did the same for the US Olympic team in Sochi earlier this year. But Gibson is just 20 years old (his mom is as old as Teemu Selanne) and has played just 6 NHL games (3 regular season games this year and 3 playoff games in the last week). Johnathan Quick has played 335 regular season games and 63 playoff games. And don’t forget that Quick hoisted the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup with the rest of the Kings in 2012. He’s one of the best in the league. Period. Even if Gibson doesn’t play, then the Ducks will be starting Jonas Hiller or Frederik Andersen. The advantage still goes to Quick.
Hawks Preference: Ducks
Final Decision: Kings or Ducks?
The Kings take a 3-1 advantage in my very unscientific dealings above, but the goaltender situation is a big one. It’s nearly a toss up with that in mind, but I do believe that the home ice advantage that the Blackhawks would garner if the Kings win tonight puts them over the top. In any event, I originally wrote that I didn’t think the Hawks would make the Cup Finals. Once we see who they draw in the Conference Finals, we’ll know more, but there’s a very strong chance that this team makes it for the second straight season.
Doulas Cutler is a Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers covering the Chicago Blackhawks. Follow him on Twitter at @DougCutlerTHW. In addition, he also writes on The Blog of Brotherhood, dedicated to Miami RedHawks Hockey (www.blogofbrotherhood.com and @MiamiHockeyBlog). LET’S GO HAWKS!