The Los Angeles Kings have now won six straight playoff series dating back to last year. They have a Conn Smythe winner and probable front runner for this year’s award in Jonathan Quick. They have a team clearly hungry to win another championship.
As a reward for all of those qualities, the Kings now get to face the NHL’s best regular season team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Even better (sarcasm implied) still, they get to face Chicago three times in four days, including twice at the United Center, thanks to a series of Rolling Stones concerts in the Windy City.
Despite this, the Kings are getting plenty of love from pundits who think their brand of hockey will be just what the doctor ordered in terms of knocking off the high-flying Blackhawks.
Are those prognosticators right? They might be, but the Kings need to execute their gameplan to perfection if they are going to take down the team many have dubbed the favorites to win this year’s Stanley Cup.
Keep the Game’s Tempo In Check
Throughout the postseason, the Kings have been guilty about letting the pace of play get away from them. Whether you’re talking about Game 4 of the second round against the San Jose Sharks, or several intervals during the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Kings have a bad tendency to allow a slew of shots in a short amount of time, and while they haven’t been blown out in any games, they have allowed the opposition to hang around longer than necessary.
With a team like the Blackhawks, the ability to gunk up their North-South game becomes even more critical. If the Hawks are able to complete stretch passes and zone entries like they were in Games 5 and 6 of their series against the Detroit Red Wings, then they are a lethal team.
The kind of defensive passivity that the Kings displayed in the above mentioned periods would allow those two elements of the Hawks’ game plan to commence unimpeded, and would have disastrous consequences for the Kings’ chances in the series.
Snipers Need to Step Up
Jeff Carter may have scored 26 goals for the Kings during the regular season, but in the playoffs, it has been feast or famine for the sniper. In the series against the Sharks, Carter managed two goals and two assists, but only had four shots in the team’s final two games, where they have a chance to eliminate San Jose.
Meanwhile, Dustin Brown, who was second on the team in the regular season with 18 goals, only had 13 shots in seven games against the Sharks, scoring twice and only managing five shots in the series’ final four games.
Those two players are going to need to ratchet up their offensive games against a team like the Hawks, who is capable of scoring in bunches and is liable to give up odd man rushes due to poor defensive decisions.
Limit Quality Chances
In the first three games of the series against the Sharks, the Kings allowed 31 or more shots in every one of the contests, and even though they won two of the three games thanks to the stellar goaltending of Quick, things needed to improve, and fast.
The Kings took that message to heart, because they limited the Sharks to 26 shots or fewer in the final four games as they took care of San Jose. As a result of their solidifying of their defensive strategy, the Kings kept intact their streak of 33 consecutive playoff games of allowing three or fewer goals, which is an NHL record.
That streak will be seriously tested by the Blackhawks, a team that has scored four or more goals in five of their 12 postseason games. That accomplishment may not mean much against a team like the Minnesota Wild, who had to rely on their third string goaltender at one point in the series, but it does against a team like the Red Wings, who played the Blackhawks tough throughout the series but was victimized by a series of mistakes by their young defensive corps.
The Kings have a similarly aged-challenged group of defensemen on their roster, and so they are going to have to make sure to stick to their strategy and not deviate from their disciplined approach to games. They need to keep the Hawks as far from the middle of the ice as they can, and they also need to make zone entries difficult by clogging up the neutral zone, as mentioned earlier.
If the Kings can do both of those things, the Hawks are going to have to rely on low percentage shots, and their speed will be minimized as a threat. Those two results would be a huge boost to the Kings’ chances, and would make them the unquestioned favorites to win the series.
Both of them are easier said than done, however.