The Chicago Blackhawks will meet the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive year when the puck is dropped to start Game 1 on Sunday at United Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).
"Compare them last year to this year, who knows," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said Saturday. "They're a tough team every game we play them. I'm sure it will be a heck of a series again."
The Kings have made some changes to their lineup since being eliminated in five games by the Blackhawks last season. But the core that led Los Angeles to a Stanley Cup championship in 2012 remains, and 2013 champion Chicago is expecting that formidable group to give them a tough time.
"They're playing really well right now, so we've got to be focused on what they've been doing the last couple of series and the way they're playing. Seems like they're never out of a game or out of a series," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "At the end of the day, we have to focus on our game and focus on what we've been doing, get better at that and be the team that we can be."
The most obvious difference between the Kings this year and last year is forward Marian Gaborik, who was acquired prior to the NHL Trade Deadline and leads the NHL with nine goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Gaborik, the way he skates, definitely poses a threat and a problem," Seabrook said.
But the biggest difference may be the resilience the Kings have demonstrated during the 2014 playoffs. The team that won the Cup in 2012 never faced elimination, but the 2014 version has played six elimination games and won them all. That run includes a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in the Western Conference First Round against the San Jose Sharks.
"They were all but out in the first round, they found a way to scratch back and win. I think that's what you're talking about with being there before, being in situations like that, never giving up," Seabrook said. "They're a great team over there. They've shown it over the last three, four years that they can play with anybody and win a Stanley Cup."
Three of the Blackhawks' four wins in the series last year were by one goal, including the Game 5 series-clincher, which was decided by Patrick Kane's winner 11:40 into the second overtime.