In our preview of Game 7 between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, we pointed out that the team to score first would be a near lock to win the game. After the Kings scored first en route to winning Game 7 6-2, teams scoring first in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs ended up with a record of 26-1! We also pointed out that the Kings were already 5-0 in elimination games during the first two rounds of the playoffs, and during the past three seasons, the Kings had played a total of seven game 6s or 7s, and they were 6-1. Now they’re 6-0 in elimination games in the 2014 playoffs alone, and 7-1 in games 6s or 7s during their past three playoff runs. That’s not too bad.
But that’s not all we correctly emphasized. Here is an excerpt from our Game 7 preview:
“…if the Kings are going to win Game 7, they will absolutely need Justin Williams to be a factor. In his career, Williams is 5-0 with 10 points (five goals) in his previous game 7s of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has two game-winning goals in those five games. As it turns out, Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards also happen to be 5-0 in game 7s, and Jeff Carter is 3-0. Early contributions from these players would certainly be the most reassuring sign that the Kings are destined to move on to the next round to face the Chicago Blackhawks.”
So you can imagine our sly grins when we saw Williams score the Kings’ first goal, followed by Carter, Richards, Kopitar, and Gaborik. Those five players had a combined record of 20-0 in game 7s prior to Game 7 against the Ducks. Let that statistic sink in for a moment! We singled out those players (although we didn’t specifically mention Kopitar–an obvious call as the Kings’ best player) as needing to be the ones to lead the charge, and that’s exactly what they did.
Before moving on to address the next series against the Blackhawks, we would be remiss if we didn’t at least acknowledge that Game 7 between the Kings and Ducks was Teemu Selanne’s last in the NHL. Amazingly, Selanne played 23 seasons–15 with the Ducks–dating back to 1992! He is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and has always been a class act. The Kings even stuck around after the post-game handshake line to honor him. Well, Selanne was mic’d up during the handshake line, and it was hard not to get a little emotional watching this:
Now, back to business. The Kings and Blackhawks have combined to win three of the past four Stanley Cup finals, with the Blackhawks dispatching the Kings last season in the Western Conference Final en route to winning the Cup. In last season’s playoff series, the Blackhawks seemed to be just a little too much for the Kings to handle–the Kings appeared a little worn down, a little too slow, and not quite up to the task. One thing that seemed to be missing for the Kings was their stalwart defenseman Willie Mitchell–who missed all of the 2012-13 season with a knee injury. Mitchell, of course, was injured during Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks and hasn’t played since. Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter told reporters on Saturday morning that Mitchell could end up playing at some point during this series, but would only be allowed back on the ice if cleared to play a full game, and not just token minutes. The Kings have been able to compensate for the loss of Mitchell, as well as fellow veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr, with Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz, but the return of Mitchell could really make a difference for the Kings in this series.
Although the Blackhawks have won nine of their last 11 meetings with the Kings (including playoff games), the Kings didn’t have Marian Gaborik in any of those games, and Willie Mitchell didn’t play in any of the eight meetings between the teams in 2012-13. Chicago is entering this series having won both of their first two playoff series in six games, while the Kings won both of their series in seven games. The Kings have yet to leave the State of California, while Chicago traveled relatively short distances to Missouri and Minnesota during their first two playoff series. The Blackhawks were led during those series by goalie Corey Crawford has turned aside 93.1% of the shots he has faced and has allowed less than 2 goals per game (i.e. 1.97).
Taking a more in-depth, statistical, look at the series, both teams appear to be very evenly matched (regular season statistics in parentheses):
Chicago – Corey Crawford (32-16-10 record / 2.26 goals against average / .917 save percentage)
Los Angeles – Jonathan Quick (27-17-4 record / 2.07 goals against average / .915 save percentage)
Patrick Sharp (34 goals / 44 assists / 8.2 offensive point shares)
Patrick Kane (29 goals / 40 assists / 7.2 offensive point shares)
Jonathan Toews (28 goals / 40 assists / 6.4 offensive point shares)
Marian Hossa (30 goals / 30 assists / 6.4 offensive point shares)
Brandon Saad (19 goals / 28 assists / 3.8 offensive point shares)
Anze Kopitar (29 goals / 41 assists / 6.4 offensive point shares)
Jeff Carter (27 goals / 23 assists / 4.9 offensive point shares)
Justin Williams (19 goals / 24 assists / 3.1 offensive point shares)
Marian Gaborik* (5 goals / 11 assists / 1.4 offensive point shares)
*=statistics for 19 games played as a member of the Los Angeles Kings after being traded on March 5, 2014
Duncan Keith (plus-22 plus/minus rating / 4.9 defensive point shares)
Brent Seabrook (plus-23 plus/minus rating / 4.8 defensive point shares)
Niklas Hjalmarsson (plus-11 plus/minus rating / 3.6 defensive point shares)
Johnny Oduya (plus-11 plus/minus rating / 3.3 defensive point shares)
Drew Doughty (plus-17 plus/minus rating / 6.6 defensive point shares)
Slava Voynov (plus-6 plus/minus rating / 5.2 defensive point shares)
Willie Mitchell* (plus-14 plus/minus rating / 5.2 defensive point shares)
Chicago – 19.5% power play conversion rate (18.2% in playoffs) / 81.5% penalty kill percentage (91.3% in playoffs)
Los Angeles – 15.1% power play conversion rate (22.4% in playoffs) / 83.1% penalty kill percentage (83.9% in playoffs)
During last season’s playoff series, Chicago’s power play wasn’t a factor at all, as the Blackhawks were only 1/14 with the man advantage. During the three regular season games they played against the Kings in 2013-14, the Blackhawks were only 2/11.
During the regular season, the Kings led the NHL in Corsi for percentage at 55.7% (shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots for divided by shots on goal + missed shots + blocked for plus shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots against). The Blackhawks were second at 54.9%.
During the regular season, the Kings were second in the NHL in Fenwick for percentage at 54.9% (shots on goal + missed shots for divided by shots on goal + missed shots for plus shots on goal + missed shots against). The Blackhawks were third at 54.7%.
These statistics, courtesy of ExtraSkater.com, show that the Kings AND the Blackhawks are particularly adept at maintaining possession of the puck and routinely out-shooting their opponents. During last season’s playoff series, the Kings and the Blackhawks were also neck-and-neck with their puck possession statistics. When the teams skated at even strength, the Blackhawks had a 51.3% Corsi for percentage and a 50.5% Fenwick for percentage, while the Kings had a 48.7% Corsi for percentage and 49.5% Fenwick for percentage. The Blackhawks held a slight edge in total shots while at even strength with 122 to the Kings’ 110. The difference between the teams, however, ended up being shooting percentage, as Chicago converted 10.7% of their shots at even strength, while Los Angeles only converted 5.5%. With neither team having a significant advantage in puck possession, one of the biggest keys to the series will be the Kings’ ability to convert a higher percentage of their shots while limiting high percentage shots for the Blackhawks (i.e. shots off of odd-man rushes and rebound opportunities in front of the net).
The player that seemingly did the most damage was playoff hero Bryan Bickell, a big-bodied forward who makes his living near the opposing team’s goal crease, but who has never scored more than 37 points in any one of his seven seasons in the NHL. He scored seven points in five games against the Kings and finished the 2012-13 playoffs with 17 points in 23 games. During this season’s playoff run, Bickell has nine points in 12 games, thus far. Bickell was allowed to hang out in front of Quick any time he wanted to (the image to the left being a perfect example), and simply waited for any rebound or re-direction opportunities that came his way. The Kings must do everything they can to put a body on Bickell and muscle him away from Quick if they want to take away the Blackhawks’ ‘x factor’ from last season’s playoff series.
*Injured (Shaw hasn’t played since the first game of Chicago’s second round series, and is currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury)
Secret Weapon(s)/’X Factor(s)’
Chicago – Bryan Bickell. If he’s allowed to post up in front of Quick all series, it certainly won’t end well for the Kings. On the other hand, if the Kings can keep Bickell from scoring points, there’s a good chance that the Kings will be victorious. He was undoubtedly the ‘x factor’ during last season’s playoff series, as we just discussed above.
Los Angeles – Marian Gaborik/Anze Kopitar Duo. Gaborik has 15 points in 14 games played during the Kings’ current playoff run. He’s shooting an astonishing 21.4%. Kopitar has 19 points in 14 games played, and is shooting an astonishing 19.2%. After Gaborik was traded to the Kings on March 5, 2014, Kopitar went on to score 18 points in 19 games. They’ve now played a total of 33 games together (regular season and playoffs combined), and Kopitar has 37 points in 33 games, while Gaborik has 31 points in 33 games. They have amazing chemistry on the ice, and the statistics clearly bear that out. If they can continue their offensive magic against the Blackhawks, it’s tough to imagine the Kings losing this series–but if they’re not scoring, then the Kings aren’t winning–that’s for sure.
Kings in seven games.
Game 1: Los Angeles at Chicago; Sunday, May 18th at 12 p.m. PST (NBC, TSN)
Game 2: Los Angeles at Chicago; Wednesday, May 21st at 5 p.m. PST (NBCSN, TSN)
Game 3: Chicago at Los Angeles; Saturday, May 24th at 5 p.m. PST (NBC, CBC)
Game 4: Chicago at Los Angeles; Monday, May 26th at 6 p.m. PST (NBCSN, TSN)
Game 5*: Los Angeles at Chicago; Wednesday, May 28th at 5 p.m. PST (NBCSN, CBC)
Game 6*: Chicago at Los Angeles; Friday, May 30th at 6 p.m. PST (NBCSN, CBC)