Time: 2.00 PM
TV: RDS, TSN, NBC Sports Network
Enemy reading: Second City Hockey
Blackhawks (projected) lineup:
Injured: n/a; Scratched: Carcillo, Mayers, Smith, Brookbank, Stanton
Kings (projected) lineup:
Injured: Mitchell; Scratched: Stoll/Toffoli, Martinez, Ellerby, Nolan, the Manchester Monarchs
- Eight wins down, eight wins left. Feels much longer than that, doesn't it? There's been a lot of real and digital ink spilled over the different path the Kings have taken this playoff season, toughing it out for thirteen games so far instead of last year's nine-game romp to the Western Conference Final. Both the Blues and the Sharks are excellent teams - the fourth and third best puck possession teams in the West, for the regular season. Numbers one and two were, of course, the Kings and the Blackhawks.
- The road certainly doesn't get any easier tonight, with the Conference Final starting at the United Center. There's also been a lot of discussion about how the Kings on the road have seemed like a different team than the Kings at home. 2012's "road warriors" have still only won one road game these playoffs (Game 5 versus the Blues), and have looked pretty bad in some of those losses. Meanwhile, they remain undefeated at Staples since mid-April.
- Jarret Stoll is reported to be a game-time decision. Sidelined by a concussion from a Raffi Torres hit, Stoll hasn't played since the beginning of the Sharks series. This news is a bit puzzling to me, since he wasn't practising with contact until as recently as yesterday, and the Kings had seemed very careful to be cautious in handling his injury. Still, his return would be a boost to the team, which missed him particularly on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle (although Trevor Lewis had a great series in his absence to keep the third line afloat).
- As Robert mentioned in his great-as-usual series preview (linked above), the Kings have had real problems containing the Blackhawks' top six over their recent meetings, particularly the Jonathan Toews line. It looks now as if the Hawks have juggled their lines in an attempt to spread out the scoring touch. Given Coach Sutter's propensity to line-match as opposed to deploying strategic zone starts, this may cause some difficulties for the Kings. I mean, I'm no expert, but I guess taking advantage of Michal Handzus might be just a little bit harder when Patricks Sharp and Kane are on his wing?
- The Blackhawks have had an up-and-down road through these playoffs. Although they dispatched the Minnesota Wild in five games, they looked particularly vulnerable at certain times, and got a huge boost from the mediocre play of the miscellaneous warm bodies Minnesota was forced to throw in net after suffering a slew of injuries. For the first half of the semi-final series against the Red Wings, they again looked particularly vulnerable, unable to find a way to beat Jimmy Howard and suffering some notable defensive breakdowns. And then apparently somebody reminded them that they were the Chicago Blackhawks, because they became much more dangerous offensively, rendering any defensive/goaltending questions largely moot, and storming back from a 3-1 series deficit.
- In the end, I think the keys to the series for the Kings are the same as they have been for the last few months, even prior to the playoffs. Special teams will have to continue to be strong, Drew Doughty will have to continue being superman, and Jonathan Quick will have to be extra Conn-Smythe-y. And, in particular, the reunited top line, with the under-achieving Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, will have to regain their form. They've been scraping by for quite a while now, occasionally providing moments of strength, and playing just well enough to beat the Blues and to barely elude the Sharks. Even if they don't regain their brilliance of last post-season, that "just well enough" level will have to be elevated if the Kings want to make it back to the Final.
- The Kings will have to win at least one road game to take this series, so they might as well start now. Prediction: Kings win, seven wins left, onwards & upwards.