CHICAGO (AP) — For all the difficulties they endured along the way, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are still standing.
They might want to buckle up, though. The ride could get even wilder.
The Blackhawks and Kings are poised for what could be a tight and lengthy Western Conference finals, with Game 1 at the United Center on Saturday.
The Kings already have more playoff losses than they did a year ago when they went on a 16-4 run through the postseason to capture the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.
“I cited critical moments last year,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. “There were several of them this year where they were severely tested. They keep finding a way to fight through, as they’ve done at times during the playoffs.
All they did was rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat Detroit in the conference semifinals, taking Game 7 2-1 on Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal to remain in the hunt for their second title in four years.
“You don’t draw it up, you don’t plan to win a seven game series coming back from 3-1,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Looking back, I think it is a good thing for our team to have gone through what we just went through, to kind of be pushed to the end, for a moment (to) feel like that was it. You have certain negative thoughts that kind of creep in. You try not to think about them, that you’re up against a tough team and the odds are against you. But we stayed positive. We stuck with it. We just had that attitude that you take it one shift at the same time, you win one game at a time, anything can happen.”
The next challenge figures to be a big one.
No goalie is hotter at the moment than the Kings’ Jonathan Quick. All the Conn Smythe Trophy winner has done is allow just 20 goals in 13 postseason games while carrying Los Angeles to its second straight conference final.
He leads the playoffs in goals-against average (1.50), save percentage (.948) and shutouts (three), and the Kings have needed it with their offense generating little.
They’re averaging just two goals per game in the postseason, and they realize they need to rediscover their scoring touch. That’s something that wasn’t an issue during the regular season, when they were 10th in the NHL and boasted the Western Conference’s top goal-scorer in Jeff Carter.
Despite their difficulties putting the puck in the net, the Kings have managed to get by in the playoffs even if it hasn’t been easy.
They dropped the first two games to St. Louis and needed seven to take out San Jose in the semifinals, with all four wins coming at home.
Now, it’s the Blackhawks with the home-ice advantage and games on back-to-back days in their arena. Clearly, they see an opportunity there. But they also realize they could be in for a tough time.
They had their difficulties with a physical Detroit team, and now, here come the hard-hitting Kings.