There are storylines galore going into the Western Conference Finals, a series between two of the past three Stanley Cup winners.
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter will be coaching against the only team he played for (406 games) and the first team he coached (1992-95). Chicago Blackhawks assistant Jamie Kompon will be helping coach Joel Quenneville game plan against the team he worked for as an assistant coach last season.
Kompon, like the Kings, has won six straight playoff series.
Kings forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will be facing the team they lost to in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final when both were members of the Philadelphia Flyers. Blackhawks center Michal Handzus is playing against the team he skated for from 2007-2011.
Tale of the tape
|CHI ||Category ||LAK |
|33 ||Goals For ||26 |
|22 ||Goals Against ||20 |
|6 ||Power-play goals ||7 |
|1 ||Shorthanded goals ||0 |
|299 ||Hits ||536 |
|149 ||Blocked Shots ||178 |
|47.6 ||Faceoff percentage ||45.7 |
|10.0 ||PIM per game ||8.3 |
But while those are good topics to discuss before the series begins, they all won't matter much once the puck drops shortly after 5 p.m. ET on Saturday at United Center in Chicago.
The Kings will be trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009 to repeat as Western Conference champions. The Blackhawks will be trying to get back to the Stanley Cup Final three years after they won it all.
Who has the advantage? How will the series play out?
NHL.com had four staff writers who have been covering the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs from Day One look at several key categories and break each down to see if we could determine which team holds the advantage heading into Game 1 on Saturday.
NHL.com senior managing editor Shawn P. Roarke, LNH.com managing editor Arpon Basu, NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen and NHL.com writer Corey Masisak served as our panel and weighed in with their opinions.
Here is what we found:
The panel was unanimous in favor of Chicago in this category.
The Blackhawks have a remarkably deep stable of forwards and a dynamic top line with Jonathan Toews centering Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Quenneville also has the option to put Toews with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad -- a top line throughout most of the regular season -- if he wants to go big against the Kings. That would leave Handzus or Dave Bolland in between Sharp and Kane.
Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell give the Blackhawks grit, toughness and a flare for some offense, especially around the front of the net. Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger each have skill, but they are better known for their awareness in the defensive end, especially on the penalty kill, which is 97.6 percent in the playoffs.
Chicago has gotten 29 goals from its forwards, including seven from Sharp and five each from Bickell and Hossa. The Kings have gotten 20 goals from their forwards.
However, the Kings probably feel safe putting their top-six up against any top-six in the NHL. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams were reunited as a line in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks -- Williams scored both goals in the 2-1 win. Richards, Carter and Dustin Penner make up an experienced, skilled, tough and physical line. Sutter could also use that line to shut down the Toews line.
Advantage: Chicago (4-0-0)
The Kings won this one with three votes in their favor. Arpon was the lone dissenter.
While they are backed by a Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie in Jonathan Quick, the Kings' blue line has everything on each of its pairs, provided Sutter keeps them together as is at least for Game 1. They're a big reason why L.A. is allowing 1.54 goals-per-game in the playoffs and is 7-1 when it scores the first goal.
Drew Doughty is hands down the Kings' most important defenseman and he eats up more than 27 minutes per game. His partner, Robyn Regehr, is the stay-at-home guy that lets Doughty roam and take some chances with pinches and rush plays. Slava Voynov and Rob Scuderi are quite similar to Doughty and Regehr in that Voynov is the offensive guy and Scuderi is the reliable backbone of the pair.
Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene can be looked upon in the same light because Muzzin has the offensive skills while Greene is the powerful guy who has his back.
Even with that said, Arpon went with the Blackhawks because he saw a re-energized top pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook plus a quick, puck-moving group of blueliners behind them in Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Rozsival.
The Blackhawks are second to L.A. in goals-against in the playoffs (1.83 per game), but they have had more to work with because they're also scoring 2.83 goals per game while the Kings are averaging 2.00 per game.
Advantage: Los Angeles (3-1-0)
With all due respect to Corey Crawford and all the heads he has turned this season, especially in the playoffs, this one was a no-brainer for the panel as the Kings swept it because of Quick, who is among the early leaders for the Conn Smythe Trophy again with his playoff-best 1.50 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and three shutouts.
Crawford has been solid, even spectacular at times, like he was in Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings, but even his gaudy numbers do not compare to those of Quick. Crawford has posted a highly respectable 1.70 GAA, .938 save percentage and one shutout.
Crawford would likely have gained the advantage against any goalie but Quick.
Advantage: Los Angeles (4-0-0)
This one is so tight that it led Dan to call it a draw between Quenneville and Sutter. Shawn and Corey went with Quenneville while Arpon gave Sutter the lone vote from the panel.
It's tough because they're both veteran coaches who have won the Stanley Cup recently and have made enough of the right moves in these playoffs to get their teams through some adversity and into the conference finals after emotional seven-game series victories against rival opponents.
Quenneville guided his team back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Wings while Sutter's Kings won their sixth straight playoffs series by winning Game 7 against the Sharks after losing three of the previous four games.
Advantage: Chicago (2-1-1)
The Blackhawks picked up three votes in this category because their penalty kill has been off the charts. Shawn called it a draw because the Kings also have a strong penalty kill and are getting more out of their power play than the Blackhawks.
Chicago's PK is at 97.6 percent in the playoffs (40-for-41). Even though the Blackhawks' power play is at 16.2 percent, they still had a combined 7-1 advantage in the special teams game against the Red Wings and Minnesota Wild, with six power play goals and one shorthanded goal.
The Kings are killing off 86.0 percent of the power plays against and are scoring 20 percent of the time on the power play. They have been better on the PK at home (18-for-19) than on the road (19-for-24). Their power play is 20 percent both at home (4-for-20) and on the road (3-for-15).
Advantage: Chicago (3-0-1)
Another tough call, especially when choosing between two teams that are coming off Game 7 wins. The Kings got votes from Corey and Arpon while Shawn gave the nod to the Blackhawks. Dan was torn, so he called it a tie.
The Kings clearly have something special going with six straight playoff series victories. The conference semifinals were their toughest yet, and they managed to come through it because Williams scored twice and Quick was fantastic. The important thing for L.A. is to earn a split in Chicago because stealing back home-ice advantage in this series is key for a team that has won 14 in a row at Staples Center.
Chicago has some mojo going, too, with three consecutive wins against the Red Wings after it looked like they were in shambles and ready to bow out of the race. They also had the wherewithal to not get flustered when Niklas Hjalmarsson's potential go-ahead goal with 1:47 left in regulation on Wednesday was waved off because referee Stephen Walkom blew his whistle maybe a second before Hjalmarsson shot the puck.
Advantage: Los Angeles (2-1-1)
As close as the panelists feel some of these categories are, the overall vote still went to the Blackhawks because Dan, Shawn and Arpon feel they're good enough -- and confident enough after winning three straight to win the series against Detroit -- to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Chicago found its game and its energy in Game 5 against the Red Wings and never slowed down. The Blackhawks have gotten to the conference finals despite getting one goal from Toews, who might very well be due for a breakout series.
Advantage: Chicago (3-1-0)