More than any other sport in America, there is something to be said about playoff hockey. The atmosphere is electric, the play is elevated and the emotions are high. There is a storyline in every series and almost always is there history to go along with it.
And for the Western Conference Finals, a series that will pit the defending champion LA Kings against the top-seeded and near flawless during the regular season, Chicago Blackhawks, this formula is no different (Game 1: 5.05pm ET, Saturday, June 1).
For the NHL, the Conference Finals really could not have played out any better as the four teams: Kings, Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, serve as the last four teams to have won the Stanley Cup.
Additionally, both the Kings and Blackhawks are coming off emotional game seven wins in the conference semis and the fact that the NHL season opened with Chicago dismantling LA by a score of 5-2, there is certainly going to be a ton of hype surrounding this series.
LA may be the defending champions but the Blackhawks were easily a better regular season team, finishing the season with just seven regulation losses and a record of 36-7-5 in a lockout shortened season. As such, the Blackhawks find themselves favored not only to eliminate the Kings but to win Lord Stanley’s Cup for just the fifth time in their 87th year in the NHL.
Here are some of the storylines that could impact which team walks away the winner in the all-important game one of the Western Conference Finals.
LA is Dependent on Strong Defense and Jonathan Quick
For the Kings, there is a relatively simple formula for victory that begins and ends with defending Conn Smythe Trophy Winner and last season’s top goalie, Jonathan Quick.
For a few years now, Quick has been one of the best goalies in the NHL and his 1.95 goals against average in 2012 is a very big reason as to how the Kings were able to win the Stanley Cup.
In 2013, Quick’s regular season stats were not as good but that hasn’t stopped him from by far being the best goalie in the playoffs. He leads all at his position including Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Currently, Quick is allowing just 1.50 goals a game on average, has saved 95 percent of attempted goals and has already led the Kings to three playoff shutouts.
Now that is not to say that a low scoring game necessarily favors the Kings as Blackhawks’ goalie, Crawford has been very solid as well.
The biggest thing for the Kings however is to find a way to keep the Blackhawks scoring low. Quick will be a big part of this but if the Kings hope to win this series against the very offensive minded Hawks (2nd in the NHL during the regular season with 3.1 goals per game), the Kings will need to continue to play strong defense in front of Quick.
No Road Relief for the Kings as Chicago is Dominant at Home
Last season, the LA Kings were underdogs in every sense of the word. They were a rag tag team composed of a handful of players that other teams made trash but LA considered to be treasure, and they were. As a #8 seed, the Kings made their way through Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and finally New Jersey en route to their franchise-first Stanley Cup.
Amazingly though, not only did the Kings defeat all of those higher seeded teams but they dismantled them. The Kings were road warriors, coming away from each of those series with 2-0 leads, which ultimately coupled with good play at home, proved to be insurmountable to opponents.
This season however, that road dominance has been non-existent. In fact, the Kings have won just one out of six road games in the playoffs this year. This is part of the reason why San Jose was able to force a game seven and why the Kings just barely made it out of the first round after going down 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues.
Of course, the inverse to this is that the Blackhawks have been absolutely unstoppable this year at home. When playing at the United Center, Chicago is 6-1 this postseason. In these seven games, they have outscored their opponents 22 goals to 11. The Kings meanwhile, have scored just three goals on the road.
So this is really simple. Since the Blackhawks have home-ice advantage, the Kings are pretty much sunk if they don’t pull out either game one or two on the road.
Can the Kings Slow Down Chicago’s Momentum?
While Chicago does have excellent and talented superstars, specifically in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’, the biggest advantage for the Blackhawks right now is momentum.
After being simply unbeatable for most of the 2013 season, the Blackhawks found themselves faced with their first real test against the Detroit Red Wings. Chicago actually fell into a 3-1 hole as they came out flat and Detroit played their best brand of playoff hockey.
But this is when the fight reminiscent of the 2010 Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks team came out. They clawed their way back, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. And resilience won out as Chicago won the series with a 2-1 overtime victory.
The Kings who themselves had this unstoppable momentum last season, will really need to put the stopper down soon. If Chicago wins game one at home, it will certainly make the Kings’ attempts to reach back-to-back Stanley Cup finals that much harder.
Chicago Blackhawks v LA Kings Betting Picks Verdict
It is hard to pick against momentum and even harder to pick against a team that has been so dominant at home with their opponents so unsuccessful on the road. The money is on Chicago and with good reason.
- So take the Blackhawks and the money in game one @ -155 on the moneyline with Bovada or BetOnline. We will stick with that safer option but if you are feeling brave then you could play on the spread where Chicago -1.5 are +200 (2/1) with either BetOnline or Bovada.
- Also take the under of less than five goals in the game as Quick will still prove to be a thorn in Chicago’s side @ -139 with BetOnline. It is -140 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.