Kings face short turnaround for Game 1 of Western Conference finals

The Associated Press
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Los Angeles Kings right wing Marian Gaborik, right, of Slovakia, celebrates his goal with defenseman Drew Doughty during the second period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks, Friday, May 16, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif.

CHICAGO — On Friday night, the Los Angeles Kings were in Anaheim for Game 7 of their second-round series against the top-seeded Ducks.

On Saturday, they travelled 1,700 miles to Chicago on the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

Not much rest for Los Angeles, but certainly better than the alternative.

The Kings will take on the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon in a short turnaround from their series-clinching 6-2 victory over Anaheim. It is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals, when the Blackhawks won in five games on the way to their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.

“I’m not sure about the energy part of it,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Saturday, “but I know how we handle losses and how we handle wins and how we handle travel, so you know they’re going to be honest in their preparation. You can trust that part of it.

“It’ll be certainly about putting forth their best effort, I know that.”

Los Angeles is making its third consecutive appearance in the Western Conference finals after the Kings rallied past San Jose and Anaheim in the first two series. The Sharks had a 3-0 lead in the first round, and the Ducks led 3-2 in their series against the Kings.

Chicago has been waiting for its next opponent since it beat Minnesota 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks had a similar break after they eliminated St. Louis in the first round.

“I think the days off helps every team this time of year, get some rest, allows you to prepare for your opponent,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. “At the end of the day, once that puck drops, I think both teams are going to be ready to play.”

The break also provided more time for Chicago forward Andrew Shaw to get healthy. The tenacious centre missed the final five games of the Wild series with an apparent right leg injury, but he skated before the Blackhawks practiced on Saturday and could return after Game 1 against the Kings.

Los Angeles is hoping for the return of injured defencemen Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Mitchell has missed eight games, but is skating again. Sutter said he could return against Chicago.

“You have a muscle injury that was related to a knee injury,” Sutter said after practice at the team’s facility in El Segundo, California. “Can’t (be) one of those deals where you get a guy for five minutes. You need to know that you get him for the whole game.”

The status of Shaw, Regehr and Mitchell could be a factor in a matchup of the NHL’s second-highest scoring team in Chicago and the stingiest team in the league in Los Angeles.

“They’re obviously defending champs, and we want to take that back,” Kings forward Jarret Stoll said. “We know what it takes to win and we’ve tasted that and it tastes pretty good. So we want to get it back from them.”

Los Angeles was the defending champion when it took on Chicago in the playoffs last year. But the banged-up Kings were unable to keep up with the high-flying Blackhawks, who got a hat trick from Patrick Kane in the clinching double-overtime victory in Game 5.

Chicago is 9-2 against Los Angeles over the past two years, outscoring the Kings 35-24.

“They’re playing really well right now so we’ve got to be focused on what they’ve been doing the last couple series,” Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “They’re never out of a game or a series. If we get up, we have to step on their throats. If we’re down, we have to work like hell to get back.

“But at the end of the day we have to play our game and focus on what we’ve been doing well throughout the playoffs, get better at that and be the team that we can be.”

 

5 things to watch in the Western Conference finals

The NHL’s Western Conference finals will have a fantastically familiar look with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks facing the Los Angeles Kings.

Chicago and Los Angeles have combined to win the last two Stanley Cups and three of the last four.

The Blackhawks beat the Kings in five games in the 2013 conference finals and swept the season series. It is the first time the Western Conference finals have had a rematch since Dallas defeated Colorado in 1999 and 2000.

Here are five things to watch when the Blackhawks begin the series Sunday afternoon at home against the Kings.

COMEBACK KINGS: Chicago may have an advantage in the series opener because it will be rested and at home against a team that was given only one day off after winning a second straight Game 7. But even if the Blackhawks win the first three games or hold a 3-2 series lead, don’t count out the Kings. Just ask San Jose and Anaheim. Los Angeles rallied after losing the first three games to defeat the rival Sharks in four straight and closed the second round with two victories in a row against the top-seeded Ducks. Adding up the comebacks, the Kings are 6-0 when playing on the brink of elimination.

SWEET HOME CHICAGO: The Blackhawks are 6-0 at home in this post-season, outscoring St. Louis and Minnesota 22-8. They are 17-2 at the United Center in the playoffs over the past two seasons, winning by a 63-31 combined margin. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is a master at using the last line change to create advantages for his team, such as putting two-way Jonathan Toews against high-scoring forwards. If the Kings can’t find a way to win in the Windy City, their run will end against the Blackhawks again.

PAGING PATRICK SHARP: Chicago has gotten key contributions from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell in the first two rounds. So far, Patrick Sharp has been held in check. He has two goals and four assists in the post-season after scoring a team-high 34 goals with a team- and career-high 78 points in the regular season. Sharp, though, has played well against the Kings in his career. He is averaging more than a point in 34 games, including the post-season, against Los Angeles.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Corey Crawford has been very good, giving up fewer than two goals a game, for the Blackhawks. If Crawford can help Chicago advance, he might finally get more respect. Quick has been shaky at times, giving up a total of 20 goals in four of his losses, and simply spectacular when the Kings have faced elimination. In those six situations this post-season, Quick has allowed just more than one goal a game. He is 3-0 in his career in Game 7s.

INJURY REPORT: Both teams will get a boost if banged-up players can get healthy enough to play. The Kings eliminated the Ducks without a pair of veteran defencemen, Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. Regehr was hurt early in the series opener against Anaheim and Mitchell hasn’t played since Game 6 against the Sharks. Chicago is hoping it can count on forward Andrew Shaw to come back. He hasn’t played since early in Game 1 against the Wild. In a playoff tradition, teams are not disclosing details about injuries.

Organizations: Los Angeles Kings, Blackhawks, Minnesota 2 NHL

Geographic location: CHICAGO, El Segundo, California, Los Angeles Anaheim San Jose St. Louis Game 5.Chicago

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