We’re through two games of the Western Conference Final already, and things are dead-locked at one game apiece. I don’t think anyone predicted either team to come away with a sweep, and we now know that we will not get a sweep from either team. After watching the first two games between the Hawks and Kings, it is obvious that these two teams match up very well with one another, and that this series has the potential to go the distance. Both sides are doing certain things very well against the other, and both sides are trying to figure out how to stop the other from being successful in specific areas.
Here’s what has stood out to me thus far.
- The Blackhawks had Game 2 in their back pocket, but never were able to get that all important three-goal lead. A lucky goal by LA at the end of the second period and two straight powerplays to begin the third for the Kings ultimately ended up being the difference.
- LA is having a lot of trouble keeping up with the speed of the Blackhawks. This was far more evident in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. The Kings took a number of penalties through the first 40 minutes of Game 2 due to the fact that the Hawks were skating circles around them. This is something that will not change moving forward. The Blackhawks are the faster team, and it would appear they figured out how to use their speed effectively against the Kings. This could eventually end up winning the series for the Blackhawks if they continue to dominate the pace of the game.
- The Kings were the far better team at the faceoff circle in Game 2, and rightfully so. They are one of the deepest teams (if not the deepest) in the NHL at the center position, and all of their centers are good at the dot. Seeing as how both the Kings and Blackhawks rely so much on puck possession in order to be successful, faceoffs could become a crucial factor in determining who wins this series.
- LA’s powerplay is good. The Blackhawks got through the first two rounds in large part because of how good they were on the PK. Neither the Blues or the Wild had a powerplay as good as that of the Kings, and so the Hawks better adjust and find a way to slow LA’s man-advantage down. They scored two massive goals on the PP in Game 2.
- Where are the Patricks? Both Kane and Sharp have disappeared through the first two games of the WCF. Sharp, while he hasn’t done much at all this whole postseason, has seen his scoring chances vanish this series. The same can be said for Kane, who seems to draw two or three King defenders every time he enters the offensive zone with the puck. One way to maybe try and get Kane going is to put him on a line with Jonathan Toews. The Kings can’t blanket both of those guys at the same time, meaning one should see a few more scoring chances. That would open up the opportunity to reunite the Sharp-Handzus-Hossa line that was so successful during last year’s Stanley Cup run.
- The fourth line of the Blackhawks was phenomenal during the first two periods of Game 2, even with Bollig being on that line. Ben Smith scored the Hawks’ second goal of the game off a nice tip-pass by Bollig in the neutral zone. Moving forward, those guys are going to need to continue being effective. Now that Andrew Shaw is coming back into the lineup, that means someone needs to go. My vote is for Brandon Bollig to eat some pine and let Peter Regin play on the fourth line with Smith and Kruger. Bollig’s dumb penalty early in the third period of Game 2 might have earned him the right to watch from a sky-box.
All in all, this series is completely up for grabs at this point. I wouldn’t look into how the Blackhawks lost Game 2 too much. That was such a horrible collapse that you almost can’t count it against them. They were the victim of a couple soft penalty calls and a weird bounce/no-bounce of the puck behind Corey Crawford in the third period, all of which led to Kings’ goals. Don’t forget the Blackhawks dominated portions of Game 1 and 38 minutes of Game 2.
The Kings are a weak 3-3 at home these playoffs, and the Blackhawks have been one of the best road playoff teams over the last 5 years. I have all the confidence in the world that the Hawks can win at least one of the next two games in la la land. If they can do that, they will regain home ice advantage in the series.