LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 08: Jeff Carter #77 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal with Anze Kopitar #11 and Drew Doughty #8 to make the score 1-1 during the second period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 8, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks will be opening their series against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday afternoon, and for the second series in a row, it will be a rematch from the 2013 postseason that saw the Hawks hoist the Stanley Cup.
In that series, the Blackhawks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, and even though they dropped Game 3 they were able to come back and win the next two games to wrap up the Western Conference championship and clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
The road to the Final won’t be that easy this time around, as the Kings have proven themselves a tough out with a 6-0 record in elimination games so far in the postseason. Guys like Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick get a ton of publicity for the team, and rightfully so, but there are several other players that Blackhawks fans should be keeping an eye on as the series gets underway at the United Center.
A lot of Blackhawks fans are familiar with Carter because of the high stick that Duncan Keith delivered to the side of his head in Game 3 of last season’s conference final, but Carter is still a player that seems to fly under the radar on this Kings team. It’s easy to see him not getting as much attention as a guy like Kopitar, who already has 19 points in the playoffs, or team captain Dustin Brown but Carter is just as lethal as both players.
Carter showed off his serious skill in Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks last week as the Kings advanced. On his first period goal, Carter not only received a pass in stride from Marian Gaborik on the rush, but he also managed to muscle his way past two Anaheim defenders before making a tremendous move on the breakaway to beat John Gibson and extend his team’s lead.
With that kind of strength and quick hands, Carter is definitely a player that the Blackhawks’ blue liners will have to keep an eye on in this series.
The Kings’ blue liners don’t get a ton of attention (unless their name is Drew Doughty, of course), but one player that is definitely worth mentioning is defenseman Jake Muzzin.
The 25-year old plays some tough minutes for the Kings, averaging 20:53 of ice time per game so far in the playoffs, and he also has a bit of scoring touch to his game with seven points in 14 games thus far. The biggest goal he’s scored so far in the postseason came in Game 6 of the series against the Ducks, when he scored in the first period to give his team an early lead over Anaheim. The play was a thing of beauty overall for the Kings, with great puck movement that really forced the Ducks out of their assigned lanes.
Eventually it was Kopitar who made the key pass as he made a backhanded dish across the ice to Muzzin, who pinched in from the blue line. The defenseman rifled a one-timer past Gibson to make it a 1-0 game, and it’s that ability to jump into plays that really makes him a dangerous player for the Kings.
At just 22 years old, Toffoli is already making a serious impact for the Kings this season, and even though he slowed down a bit against the Ducks, his performance against the San Jose Sharks in the first round makes him a guy that the Hawks can’t underestimate.
In that series, Toffoli racked up three goals and an assist over the last four games of the series as the Kings came back from a 3-0 series deficit to win. He picked up the game winning goals in both Games 4 and 5, and he had a key goal in Game 7 that finally put the Sharks away. With his team leading 2-1, the Sharks began to make a bit of a push at the start of the third period, but Toffoli quickly ended that comeback attempt with a goal just under five minutes into the frame to make it a 3-1 contest.
He doesn’t get the most ice time out of the Kings’ centers, but this unheralded youngster is definitely a player that could find some success against the Blackhawks if head coach Darryl Sutter can find the right matchups in which to deploy him.