The Chicago Blackhawks are moving on to the Western Conference Finals for the fourth time in six years under coach Joel Quenneville.
The Hawks and the Minnesota Wild fought valiantly in this past series, but the beauty of sport is that there can be only one winner. The Hawks’ offense played hard in last two games, scoring only four goals, but challenging Ilya Bryzgalov along with the Wild defense. The only way the Minnesota Wild’s offense could burn out so quickly was if Corey Crawford played the way every Hawks fan had hoped this whole year. He did just that in the past two games and standing on his head in Game 6 only allowing one goal on 35 shots.
Since that Wild series is over, it is time for the Hawks to look ahead to the Western Conference Finals.
The Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings are headed to a fast-paced Game 7. Both teams have caught fire recently, so neither team will be a walk in the park for the Blackhawks. The Hawks are a combined 5-0-1 against these two West Coast powerhouses with their only loss coming in a shootout to the Ducks.
The better matchup for the Hawks will be the against Kings. The Hawks defeated the Kings in last year’s Western Conference Finals in five games. Jonathan Quick hasn’t played to the level that hockey fans are accustomed to, and one of the worst teams for a struggling goaltender to play is the Hawks.
Patrick Kane recently sparked his offensive play and is coming off of a beautiful series winning backhander on Ilya Bryzgalov and other players like Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa have been scoring too. Coach Quenneville said that he expects Andrew Shaw to be playing at some point in the next series and that he will start skating again tomorrow. All of this meaning that if Quick doesn’t go back to his natural form, he could be in for a few rough nights.
The Kings do have many other players to offset Quick’s woes. Forward Anze Kopitar is one of the postseason leaders in scoring, the exact opposite of his play last year where he only had 3 goals in 18 games and a plus/minus of -2. Drew Doughty is a solid defensive leader for the Kings and their captain Dustin Brown is playing as physical a game as anyone.
The Ducks are too powerful of a team playing with heart knowing that this is Teemu Selanne’s last chance to capture a second Stanley Cup. As we have seen with the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago in the National Football League, a team with a small chance to win the championship can win as long as they have the heart.
Selanne, The Finnish Flash, is one of many talented players on the Anaheim roster. There’s Ryan Getzlaf, a finalist for Mark Messier’s NHL Leadership award, and a Hart Trophy candidate. The Ducks have the pure skill and pesky antics of forward Corey Perry. Finally, they have a solid defense in Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm on their top defensive line, and John Gibson looks to be their guy between the pipes.
The Hawks have played well as of recent against the Wild. They do need to keep playing the way they have the last two games because these teams from the Golden State will not give the Hawks an opportunity to bounce back from early game struggles. Depending on the winner of Friday’s game, the Hawks could start the series on the road in Anaheim or at the United Center against the Kings.