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KINGS at BLACKHAWKS
TV: NBC, TSN, RDS
Big story: The past two Stanley Cup champions will meet in the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive season. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the conference final in 2013.
Kings: Los Angeles rallied from a deficit for the second straight series and claimed bragging rights in California by knocking out the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks to get to this point. The Ducks went ahead of the Kings 3-2 before a close victory in Game 6 and a devastating performance in Game 7 left no doubt.
The Kings have been streaky in this postseason, losing three to start against the Sharks before winning six in a row then losing three straight again. They're now on a two-game run. During the regular season, Los Angeles had five winning streaks of five games or more, but six losing streaks that lasted at least three games.
Last season, the Kings limped into this round against the Blackhawks fresh off a brutal seven-game series with the Sharks. Los Angeles has two key injuries, but overall it might be healthier and more equipped to challenge the defending champs.
"I think we've got a better team this year than last year. We've got some new additions," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We've got D-men like [Jake Muzzin], who's playing a lot better than he was last year and he's a lot more confident and has that experience now. And we got [Marian Gaborik] in a trade. [Gaborik has] been a huge fit to this team. He's produced a lot of points and helped us a lot offensively, and putting him with [Anze Kopitar] is great. I think some of those little things make us a better team this year and hopefully we can take advantage of what we learned from last year."
Blackhawks: Just as Los Angeles did last season, Chicago lost the first two games to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round before knocking them out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago received a much tougher test from the Minnesota Wild in the second round than most pundits expected, but the Blackhawks prevailed in six games and have had a few extra days to rest.
Chicago won the Presidents' Trophy last season en route to a second title in four years. The Blackhawks were not as dominant during the regular season, but like the Kings, there are a lot of players with championship pedigree on the roster.
"Better? That's tough," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I'll let [the media] assess that one. We like our team. We have balance. We have the four-line rotation that's solid. Our D is the exact same D we had last year. We have the same goalie we had last year. The comparisons, we'll let you guys dissect that.
"I think we're at the same level we were at last year. So that's where we're at. But we like the momentum we have. We like the challenge that's ahead of us, but L.A. is going to be a tough opponent. I know we talked about underestimating Minnesota going into that series. There's no way we'd think of underestimating [Los Angeles]."
Who's hot: Kopitar leads this postseason with 19 points, which is four more than anyone else and seven more than any player still competing, save for linemate Gaborik, who leads the League with nine goals. ... Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was outstanding in the final two games against the Wild and leads the playoffs with a .931 save percentage.
Injury report: Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell (lower body) has been skating, and coach Darryl Sutter said he could play at some point in this series. He and defenseman Robyn Regehr (undisclosed) are expected to be out for Game 1. … Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (lower body) was ruled out by Quenneville, but the coach did choose "sooner" rather than later for his return.