With the Eastern Conference playoffs coming to a close tonight, out West everything is set and ready to go. Both the Sharks and Blackhawks made quick work over their 1st round opponents, while the Kings and Red Wings took a little longer to dispose of theirs.
San Jose Sharks (6) vs Los Angeles Kings (5)
All the talk we be around the defending Stanley Cup Champions, from the southern part of the state…but do yourself a favor…don’t sleep on their rivals from northern California. The Sharks were underdogs against the Canucks last round, and they took it to Vancouver sweeping them in impressive fashion. The sharks were able to get under the skin of the Canucks and execute on the power play. They will more than likely not be able to get in the heads of the Kings. Joe Pavelski had a big series registering 4 goals ( 3 power play goals) and 4 assists. The underrated part of his game that played big dividends, especially on the power play, was his face off wins. In four games his lowest face off percentage was 53.85%.
Also helping out Pavelski are Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. Like Pavelski, Couture also has 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) and Thornton is right behind them with 7. The back end was very solid for San Jose to keep the big top line in check. They will once again have their hands full with trying to keep Jeff Cater, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Now the Sharks will have to also think about the offense the Kings posses on the blue line.
The Kings are coming off an extremely physical series against the St. Louis Blues. It will be very interesting to see if the Kings can
handle the well rested Sharks who depend on speed and skill. It will also be something to look at if the Sharks can handle the Kings in a playoff series as far physicality goes. Jonathan Quick will have to play like he did in games three through six because the Sharks can score at will.
The key to the series will have to be the Kings defenseman. If they can dictate the game and push the play from the backend, unlike what the Vancouver Canucks were able to do. Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov will have to defend the high powered Sharks and contribute on the offensive side if LA wants to move on.
I’m taking the defending Champion Los Angeles Kings to win in seven games.
Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs Detroit Red Wings (7)
The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off a quick five game series win against the off season champion Minnesota Wild. Patrick Sharp had a very strong series with five goals in five games. Right behind him was Marian Hossa with three. The big story of that series was the way the Blackhawks defended as a team. Jonathan Towes might not have had a big offensive series, but he was exceptional on the defensive side of things helping out on the Wild’s top line. The story of that series was Corey Crawford though who gave the Wild nothing all series. If he plays like he did, solid, not great, the Hawks will make short work of the seven seed.
For the Red Wings coming off a long dramatic series against the second seeded Anaheim Ducks it begins and ends with how they defend this explosive forward group the Blackhawks have. They need to find a way to keep Sharp, Hossa, Towes and Patrick Kane in check. The veteran presence this team has though is their biggest asset. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datysuk will have to be the tone setters and continue to lead the Red Wings in points. They will draw Chicago’s top defensive paring Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. While goalie Jimmy Howard will have to be big, my key for the Red Wings is how Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner will play against the second pairing.
In my opinion this is the dream match-up for the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks. I take them in five.