The Chicago Blackhawks have already gone through one playoff rematch this season, dispatching the Minnesota Wild from the postseason for the second consecutive year, but they will have to deal with another one as the Los Angeles Kings advanced to the Western Conference Final with a 6-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.
The victory by the Kings means that the series will begin on Sunday afternoon in the Windy City, with the Blackhawks now having home ice advantage for the remainder of the playoffs.
Home ice advantage is obviously a big key for the Blackhawks, as they have yet to lose at the United Center during the playoffs, but it comes at a heavy cost, as the Kings will come into this series looking to settle some unfinished business from last season.
Just like the Wild before them, the Kings will be looking to avenge a 4-1 series beatdown at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champions a year ago. The Kings won Game 3 on home ice at Staples Center, but despite the Blackhawks losing Duncan Keith from the lineup due to a suspension, Chicago won Game 4 and ultimately won the series in Game 5 when Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in double overtime to send the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final.
This season, the Kings’ road to this rematch has been anything but smooth. They have already faced elimination in both their first round series against the San Jose Sharks and in their second round matchup with the Ducks, going 6-0 in those games. They came back from a 3-0 series deficit against San Jose (making them only the fourth team in NHL history to erase that big of a deficit), and they bounced back from a 3-2 deficit against the Ducks to win the series on the road.
That resiliency, as well as the addition of new players like Marian Gaborik, makes the Kings a much more dangerous foe than the one the Blackhawks dispatched with ease last postseason. They are a team that is capable of clogging up the neutral zone like the Wild did in the second round, but they are also capable of moving the puck quickly thanks to skilled defensemen like Drew Doughty, and their goaltending is stellar with Jonathan Quick patrolling the crease.
All of that being said, the Blackhawks will also come into the series with plenty of momentum. Having won Games 5 and 6 against a Minnesota team that gave them all they could handle, the Blackhawks seem to be finally figuring out how to work their offense against intense defensive scrutiny, with guys like Kane and Marian Hossa finding their groove in recent games. Add to that the excellent goaltending the team has been getting from Corey Crawford, and the Blackhawks are in a good position to become the first repeat champions since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back Cups in 1997 and 1998.
Before Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks can begin to think about another parade through the city of Chicago, they have to focus on the task at hand. The Kings are a battle-tested team with nothing to lose and a lot to gain, and they aren’t going to be intimidated by a Blackhawks team that is the only remaining squad to not have to play a Game 7 so far in these playoffs. The road to this point hasn’t been easy for the defending champions, but it is about to get a lot harder when the puck drops on Sunday afternoon.