CHICAGO -- The general idea in hockey is that each playoff series is its own story, complete with unexpected twists and villains and heroes and a happy ending for some but not for others.
This is almost certain to be an accurate depiction of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Western Conference Semifinals was a drastically different experience than the opening round. Now comes the Western Conference Final, which commences Saturday at United Center (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN) and the Los Angeles Kings could present quite a different challenge for the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
“Yeah, they do play a little differently than Detroit and Minnesota,” Chicago forward Viktor Stalberg said of the defending Stanley Cup champions. “I know that’s the way they like to play. I’m sure there will be more hits and it will be tougher. At the end of the game, we know that’s not how we usually beat teams. We beat teams by playing quick hockey and moving the puck fast and making it tough on them that way. We know that’s how we’re going to match up against them.”
The most obvious thing that is different about the Kings is their physical style. The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago are similar teams, both in philosophy and roster construction.
The Red Wings-Blackhawks series was played as almost two different games -- the top two lines from each team would face each other and the bottom two would square off. The Kings have similar players on each line, and Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter won’t have a problem mixing and matching who plays against whom.
The Blackhawks are certainly bracing for the Kings’ abrasive nature, but they can’t get too caught up with trying to match them hit for hit.
“It's almost like they're a better St. Louis Blues,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “They play physical, have players that can score. When they do play physical, it seems to work to their advantage. Against them, we'll try to worry about what we have to do. If we play our game, play the fast-paced game we've been playing the past few games, it should work well for us.”
Defenseman Brent Seabrook said, “The L.A. Kings are a great team. They showed it last year all season, in the playoffs so far. They're a big, physical, strong group. ... We're going to play our game. We have to worry about ourselves.”
The biggest part of the challenge for the Blackhawks is probably at the other end of the ice. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012 and might be halfway to a repeat.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard was a star in the second round, easily the MVP of the series for the Red Wings. Chicago was still able to touch him up for four goals each in Games 5 and 6.
Quick has been phenomenal in this postseason, posting video-gamelike numbers (.948 save percentage, 1.50 goals-against average). He has started a total of 33 playoff games since the start of the 2012 postseason and hasn’t given up more than three goals in any of them.
“If he sees it, he’s going to stop it,” Chicago forward Bryan Bickell said. “We need to get our second opportunities, get around the net, beat guys to the net and just get those greasy goals.
“He’s been having a great playoffs. He’s making big saves when they need him. We just need to get in front of him and take his eyes away and go from there.”