With all the talk about parity in the NHL, we find ourselves with the last four Stanley Cup winners in the final four. I did not think the Los Angeles Kings were going to make it this far this season, but when you get goaltending like Quick is providing, all bets are off.
In contrast, I'm not at all surprised the Blackhawks are here, but I did not expect them to have as much trouble with the Red Wings as they did. That said, they did not face any adversity all season or in the first round of the playoffs. Once they were pushed in a corner, we saw what this team was really made of.
Let's take a closer look at the deciding factors between these two.
Both favorites, the Hawks and the Penguins, have dynamite offenses, but suspect goaltending. This is where we need to have most of our focus for this matchup. There is no denying that when the pressure is on, Quick rises to the top. He didn't have the best regular season. In fact, some could argue it was merely average. Yet, when we look at the stats page he is sitting with a .948 save percentage and the inside track to another Conne Smythe Trophy.
The same can't be said for Crawford. He is much less proven and it would be a shock if he could match Quick in this series. When things got tight vs the Wings, Crawford looked a little tentative. He did enough to lock things down when it mattered most though, but questions still linger.
The real question will be whether or not Crawford will need to be elite?
Last season the Kings had very little trouble getting production out of their big guns, and the bottom six consistently chipped in with timely goals. This year it's been much more of a struggle. Collectively, their forwards only have 20 goals in 13 games and Carter and Williams account for almost half of them (9). They've also played so much in their own zone that only four forwards have positive corsi scores - Brown, Penner, Williams, and Lewis. They will need to play much more aggressively against the Hawks and stop relying so heavily on Quick.
For Chicago, their fate is usually attached to the likes of Kane and Toews. Yet both have had mighty struggles so far this postseason. Toews didn't score his first playoff goal until game 6 of round two and Kane has a negative corsi score despite starting play in the offensive zone 73% of the time. Both have to be much better this round.
On the bright side, Sharp, Shaw, Saad, Stalberg, and Hossa have all had a strong playoff overall, relieving much of the mounting pressure on their two big stars.
One of the reasons the Kings aren't flying through as easily as last year is their woeful play on the road. They weren't very good in the regular season and it's carried over into the post-season with a 1-5 record. If they hope to change this, they can start with their PK as they've given up five PP goals on the road, but only one at home.
Neither team has been very good in the faceoff circle, but if the Kings can get Stoll back healthy, it could give them an edge down the center. He's not only good on draws, but he's also a nice addition to the PK unit.
Special teams is also an area of concern for Chicago. For whatever reason, they can only manage a 16% success rate with the man advantage. They had a similar percentage in the regular season, too. Given the firepower in the lineup, they shouldn't have this much trouble on the power-play.
Many pundits think the Hawks are going to come out on top in this series because they've been battle-tested by the Wings. I'm not sold on that though. The Kings faced two stiff tests so far and found a way to get it done both times. Most of that is due to Quick, but is there any reason to doubt him going forward?
Unlike Detroit, the Kings don't have to rely on overacheivement to give the Hawks a run. They have quality depth up and down the line-up on offense and defense. This should be another close series, and when it's this close I like to ride the better goaltending and go with the value on the underdog.
Prediction: Kings ML for the series +135 and Kings +1 games for the series (-107).