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Combination of size, speed fits Kings, Blackhawks

by Dan Rosen /

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- In the latest episode of talking in circles with Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, the focus Friday was on his team's size versus the Chicago Blackhawks' speed, a major point of emphasis in the pre-series breakdown of the Western Conference Final.

"If you actually look at it, their lineup that they had in their last game and our lineup that we had last game is identical," Sutter said. "The size is the same, so I guess we have a problem with their speed."

And how do the Kings plan on dealing with the Blackhawks' speed, starting with Game 1 at United Center on Saturday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS)?

"Use our size," Sutter responded.

What Sutter is saying makes sense when you consider these two points:

1. Each team is expected to dress 18 skaters in Game 1 that are on average 6-foot-2, but the Kings likely will hold an 11-pound advantage on the Blackhawks with an average of 212 pounds per skater, opposed to Chicago's 201. That's not including Jarret Stoll (6-1, 212 pounds), who could return from a concussion to play Saturday.

2. The Kings use their weight advantage by deploying a heavy forecheck that includes a lot of crash and bang. It's not a coincidence that they've won six consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff series this way.

However, their challenge against the Blackhawks is different than it has been since the start of their run to the Stanley Cup last spring. The question facing the Kings now is, how effective can their dump-and-chase game be against the Blackhawks, who are one of the best transition teams in the League largely because they always have two capable puck-moving defensemen on the ice.

"The challenge that Chicago poses is, they've got some big guys on their team and they also rely on their speed and quickness," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "For us to be successful in our physical aspect we need to put pucks in good spots, make it harder. They've got a lot of good puck-moving defensemen, so it's a matter of putting pucks in the right spots."

Kings center Anze Kopitar is aware of what will happen to his team if it doesn't dump the puck properly into the offensive zone against the Blackhawks.

"We all know they have some really mobile defenseman that can wheel the net, and the next thing you know you're defending in your own zone," Kopitar said. "We want to make it hard on them. We want to be physical on them. That all starts with our play coming up the ice, making sure we don't have any turnovers, and when we do get in their zone we want to keep it there as long as we can."

If Los Angeles is effective at its game -- playing heavy and keeping the puck deep in their attacking zone -- it will limit Chicago's speed over time. The Blackhawks know it.

"They're top guys hit. Everybody hits," Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell said. "Their D corps is probably one of the toughest D corps to get around. They finish every hit. I think last year they had so much success in the playoffs because they grind players down and just the toll on their bodies."

Bryan Bickell
Bryan Bickell
Left Wing - CHI
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 6
SOG: 18 | +/-: 1

Bickell becomes an important factor in helping the Blackhawks get to their speed game -- or at least to get around the Kings' size advantage. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound left wing is likely to start Game 1 on Chicago's top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

Considering Bickell also has been productive with five goals in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, putting him on the top line is likely Chicago coach Joel Quenneville's way of responding before he even knows if Toews and Hossa will see a lot of Kopitar, Brown and Justin Williams.

"He's a big body, shown some poise with the puck as the playoffs go along," Toews said of Bickell. "No coincidence that he's been putting up the points he has been. He's the type of guy that has been bringing it every part of the game. With the shot he has, the ability he has to score goals, we'll try to get him the puck as much as we can. He's going to do his thing, be physical, throw his body around. It will be fun."

It won't be so much fun for anyone on the Blackhawks if the Kings can get to their game early and stay with it throughout the series because they marry their size with skill up and down their lineup. Sutter went back to last season to make his point about the team's depth.

"We were struggling in February or March and we wanted some more skill in our lineup," Sutter said. "The skill was Dwight King and Jordan Nolan."

King is 6-foot-4, 232 pounds; Nolan is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. They fit right in.

"You have to pay a price if you want to score a goal against the Kings, and conversely they're willing to pay a price to score against you," NHL Network and CBC analyst Kevin Weekes told "Not every team has both. Not every team does both if they have both. They do."


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