Another playoff series, another familiar foe for the Los Angeles Kings. However, in the whirlwind of the last few weeks, we've kind of lost track of the Chicago Blackhawks. Fortunately, Greg from Second City Hockey (SB Nation's Blackhawks blog) is here to help! We asked him five questions about the Blackhawks going into today's Game 1 showdown. You can check out SCH's series preview right here, and be sure to follow along on Twitter for their perspective on these Western Conference Finals.
Q: What is the biggest difference between this year's Blackhawks and last year's Blackhawks?
The biggest difference this year and last year is that the Blackhawks have not been able to roll four lines in the playoffs like they did in 2013. Guys like Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg had specific roles last year. Joel Quenneville and the Hawks' bottom six forwards are still trying to figure out who is going to fill those roles. The good thing is that the top six are giving the bottom six plenty of time to catch up.
Q: Bryan Bickell is leading the team with six goals in these playoffs, a year after scoring nine goals in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run. Can you explain why he's been so effective in the postseason?
If I could explain it, I'd be the highest paid general manager in the game. Playoff hockey suits Bickell's playing style because the game is slowed down and effort scores just as easily as skill. Bickell is one of those players, much like Claude Lemieux, who shows up when it matters the most. It also doesn't hurt that he gets to play with Jonathan Toews in the playoffs, unlike the regular season.
Q: Our old friend Michal Handzus has been centering Patrick Kane lately, and as much as we like the guy, it doesn't seem like a great fit. Who would you have centering Kane?
Jonathan Toews. Put Toews and Kane with Bickell and be done with it. There is no one else on the Hawks that can work with Kane like Toews does. Handzus has a use on this team because of his work in his own end and on the penalty kill. But, he is to Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane what the iceberg was to the Titanic.
Q: Duncan Keith gets the headlines, but Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson play the tough minutes on defense. How have they looked in the playoffs?
I love Niklas Hjalmarsson! He is the reason I think the NHL needs to have two awards for defensemen: one for the best offensive defenseman, and one for the best actual defensive blue liner. Nik is a warrior who never met a shot he didn't want to block. He is the perfect stay at home, fearless defenseman. Nobody talked about Johnny Oduya until he got paired with Hjammer. He is a solid player, but he seems to get a case of the "yips" in big moments. Oduya is benefiting from the players around him, which is why I am willing to bet he gets traded on draft night.
Q: Finally, are you as excited to watch Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews go head to head as I am?
Cheater! (Editor's Note: I stole this question from him. No apologies!) The one word answer is yes! I am sucker for defense and we get to see two of the best defensive forwards, who both happen to be world class offensive players, go at each other one on one. I am still mad at Dale Tallon for selecting Jack Skille over Anze. Ugh.