It was an unbelievable season. It was a breezy first round. The Western semi-finals against the Red Wings made us sweat. After dominating game 1 and winning 4-1, we all thought we would have another clear path to the next round. But the Red Wings had other plans. Winning 3 straight games and pushing the Blackhawks to the brink of elimination. But the Blackhawks had a 3 game winning streak of their own up their sleeves, ending with an epic Game 7 overtime thriller on Wednesday night when a goal by Brent Seabrook sent the Red Wings packing.
So the road to the Stanley Cup continues for these Blackhawks. But, as it often does, it will have to go through the defending champions, the LA Kings. These are two very different teams. The Blackhawks play a fast-paced finesse game – count on their great depth and passing. The Kings play a lot more physical, a team of bangers in front of arguably the best playoff goaltender in the last two seasons. So what are the keys to victory for the Blackhawks as they open up the series tomorrow at the United Center?
1. Protect home ice
The Kings are one of the best home teams in the NHL and have done an especially good job of protecting their home ice in the playoffs. Winning the first two games at home, which will be played back to back Saturday and Sunday, is going to be key for the Blackhawks. Coming out of Chicago tied 1-1 could actually prove very costly heading back to LA. Not sure if the Hawks will have another comeback from down 3-1 in them. So these first two games are key.
2. Score. Score. Score!
Jonathan Quick is not going to make it easy. And in the last two years in the playoffs, the Kings are 22-0 when scoring at least 2 goals. The Hawks are one of the best scoring teams in the league, but have struggled at times in these playoffs. The Hawks need contributions from all lines, but their first line really needs to set the tone and get on the board. I’m talking Toews, Kane, Hossa.
3. No soft goals
If this does come down to a battle of the goaltenders in low scoring games, Corey Crawford can’t afford to let any soft goals by him as he can tend to do. Every stop counts, and one soft goal could mean everything if the Hawks can’t solve Jonathan Quick.
4. Make them play your style
The Kings are going to want to play physical. They are the more physical team, and the Hawks struggle to play that style of hockey consistently. It just isn’t who they are, and they can’t win adapting to another team’s style for 7 games. The Hawks need to set the pace in Game 1. Play fast, cash in on their power play opportunities and don’t allow the Kings to be the aggressors. If the Hawks can control the pace, they have a much better shot. And if they can do it on the road, they will be extremely tough to beat in this series.