For the second straight year, the Los Angeles Kings stand between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kings are coming off two dramatic seven-game series victories, and dominated the Ducks in Games Six and Seven to eliminate their California rivals. But this year's Kings roster is far from the squad that was easily eliminated by the Hawks 12 months ago.
Last year, Los Angeles relied heavily on Jonathan Quick to advance to the Western Conference Final. The Kings averaged only 2.06 goals per game in the 2013 playoffs, worst among teams that advanced past the first round.
This year, however, the Kings come in skating well and scoring the puck. They're averaging 3.21 goals per game, more than the Blackhawks (2.94). And LA boasts the top two point producers - Anze Kopitar (19 points) and Marian Gaborik (15) - in these playoffs; the Hawks' leaders - Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook - have 11 points each.
Corey Crawford comes into the series having a dominant playoffs. Crawford has won eight of 12 games with a .931 save percentage and 1.97 goals against average, all the best in the postseason.
On the other end of the rink, Quick hasn't had the great postseason he did a year ago. The Kings' netminder is allowing 2.72 goals per game with a .914 save percentage, and Martin Jones has appeared in two playoff games for the Kings.
However, in six elimination games already this postseason, Quick has allowed only nine goals and is 6-0 against the Sharks and Ducks. With his back against the wall, Quick has allowed more than two goals in a game only once (Game Three against San Jose).
One factor that will undoubtedly play into the series is fatigue. Not only are the Kings' coming off two seven-game series, but they will have less than 40 hours between closing out the Ducks and the conference final beginning in the United Center (at noon Pacific) on Sunday.
.@NHLBlackhawks Hey guys, what do you think about just skipping to Game 7? Cool?
— LA Kings (@LAKings) May 17, 2014
The schedule affords both teams some time to catch their breath early in the series, which could buy the Hawks time to get Andrew Shaw back into the lineup soon. Los Angeles is still without Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell on their blue line.