The matchup between the powerful Los Angeles Kings and speedy Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final could bear a striking resemblance to the series that will take place in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins are similarly powerful, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have the same type of speed and high-octane attack.
The difference could be Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who for the second straight spring is the best goalie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's gotten to the point where you have to wonder if anybody can beat this guy," NHL Network analyst Ken Daneyko told NHL.com.
Daneyko said he thinks the Blackhawks might be able to do it.
"With their depth and with the skill level they have, they're a team that maybe can score some goals on Jonathan Quick," he said. "We all know they're going to have to."
With Game 1 on Saturday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS), NHL.com decided to take the pulse of three network analysts who have been following the playoffs from Day One. Daneyko, the former New Jersey Devils defenseman, has been breaking down the playoffs on NHL Network; Kevin Weekes is doing it for NHL Network and CBC; and Craig Button works for NHL Network and TSN.
We asked them the same five questions -- they didn't hold back with their opinions:
Who has impressed you the most on the Kings?
Daneyko and Weekes said Quick. Button mentioned Quick -- "I know he's good," he said -- but defenseman Drew Doughty is the guy who has impressed Button this postseason despite his mediocre statistical production (five points in 13 games).
"Drew Doughty has blown me out of the water," Button said. "It's not about points, it's just his command of the game. He is so good. He is so calm, cool and collected out there. Don't look at his stats, just watch the game and watch what he does. He is a brilliant, brilliant player. I am blown away by how good he is. We all knew he was good, but I'm watching him this year and I'm just like, 'Wow.' "
High praise indeed, but check out what Daneyko and Weekes said about Quick, who leads the League with a 1.50 goals-against average, a .948 save percentage and three shutouts.
"It's impossible to beat him because of his leg strength and how he covers that whole bottom of the net," Daneyko said. "He doesn't give you much to shoot at up top either, and he just doesn't quit."
Weekes, a former goalie, said Quick plays at the same level Dominik Hasek reached in his prime.
"He does things that are unique to him and he does them in a way that is unique to him," Weekes said of Quick. "It's a whole different standard, some of the things he's able to do in the net."
Who has impressed you the most on the Blackhawks?
The three panelists each gave a different answer.
Button went with defensemen Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Daneyko gave his vote to goalie Corey Crawford, whose 1.70 GAA is second to Quick among the League leaders. Weekes singled out forward Bryan Bickell as a guy who has "really jumped out."
Button said Keith "has taken his game to another level." He said it was evident in Game 5 against the Detroit Red Wings, "when he just took the series over."
"Brent Seabrook went back and played with Keith and I don't think it was an accident that Brent took his game to another level," Button said. "That was a brilliant move by Joel [Quenneville, coach]."
Hjalmarsson stood out to Button for being "such a determined battler defensively."
"You're not getting any space on him, you're not getting around him," Button continued. "If you want to gain an inch, you're going to have to work for it. He's quick to pucks. He reads the play. He can skate. He can make a great pass. One of the big things with Joel is he wants defensemen to get to the puck, read the play and move it quickly. Hjalmarsson does that."
For as much praise as Daneyko heaped on Quick, he said he feels the Blackhawks are in this position largely because of Crawford, who ranks third among playoff goaltenders with a .938 save percentage.
"Everybody questions him, but all he's done is have a goals-against average under 2.00 and a good save percentage," Daneyko said. "I don't always go by statistics, but after he let in the so-called bad goal in Game 6, I loved the way he bounced back. That shows he's maturing. He's a lot better than people think. Does L.A. have the advantage in goal? No question. But Crawford has grown and he's gotten better."
Weekes chose Bickell, who has five goals in 12 games and was skating as the left wing on the top line in practice Friday.
"He's more than just size," Weekes said. "His skill is very underrated. He has more hockey sense than people give him credit for. He's more talented than people give him credit for. The postseason is tailor-made for a guy with that type of game."
What are some of the reasons the Kings could win the series?
They all answered "Quick," but that was too obvious. There are other reasons, like the Kings' size and power.
"I don't think they have the same lightning-quick ability to score as the Blackhawks do, but they can win because they know how to suffocate a team," Button said.
Weekes called it "power hockey."
"You have to give Quick his props, but they're a power-based team that plays power hockey," Weekes said. "They play power hockey on the wall. They're not afraid to go through the middle of the ice with power. They're not afraid to mix it up in front of the opposing net with power. They battle in front of their own net. Their defensemen are very physical and make it very tough to play around Quick. They do a great job of boxing out and punishing the opposing forwards."
Daneyko, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, spoke from experience when he answered this question.
"Only certain teams can turn the switch on and off," he said. "I was on one of those teams, and I look at the Kings and they are like that. They can turn the switch on and raise their level when it needs to be raised. They have that experience and they know how to do it."
What are some reasons the Blackhawks could win the series?
Speed, high-end talent, a deep blue line and Crawford were the answers from our three analysts.
"It's not just skating speed, it's mental speed," Button said. "From their blue line to their forwards, they close on you and don't give you a lot of room to operate. And they're so quick to be able to transition into offense. They're lightning quick. They don't beat themselves."
With that said, the Blackhawks are still waiting for captain Jonathan Toews to break out; he has one goal in the playoffs. Patrick Kane has been spotty at best, and Patrick Sharp has seven goals, but he scored five of those against the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. He snapped a five-game goalless drought in Game 7 against Detroit.
"Make no mistake, Toews and Kane are going to have an impact if they're going to beat the Kings," Daneyko said. "You need to have guys who with one chance it'll go into the net, and they've got those guys, but they're going to have to do it. They don't have to do it every night, but they'll have to win a game or two for them."
Weekes looked at the back end and said that's where the Blackhawks can make the biggest difference.
"They have good goaltending -- it's not a question mark for them anymore -- and their defense is probably as good as it has ever been," Weekes said. "Quenneville needs to keep Seabrook and Keith together, and I also like it when Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are partnered together. They have great chemistry. And with [Nick] Leddy, if he's your six playing with Michal Rozsival, who looks really good in Chicago and has been a great fit there, I think they're a fully balanced team with lots of weapons both up front and on the back end."
Who do you think will win and why?
Button and Weekes like the Kings. Daneyko picked the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup before the playoffs began and he's sticking with it. "But I don't feel comfortable with it," he said.
"You usually have to go through that big adversity series and they did, down 3-1 to Detroit," Daneyko continued. "I've been through that against the Flyers in the  Eastern Conference Final and then we went on to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe that's the type of year it's going to be for the Hawks."
Maybe not, say Button and Weekes, who each predicted L.A. would win in seven.
"I know the way the Kings are going to play. I don't know for sure the way the Chicago Blackhawks are going to play," Weekes said. "I know what they're capable of because they're a championship-caliber team, but I don't know that everyone will be all on board to play the way they need to play right away. And will they be willing to do it consistently, because L.A. is going to force them to compete, force them to play a power game, force them to skate through lots of bodies, heavy sticks. Do Chicago's guys want to pay that price?"
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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