Hockey / Sports

Blackhawks need quick start and strong finish against Kings

Last season, the Kings arrived at the United Center with a tailwind propelling them into the Western Conference finals against the Blackhawks after winning a grueling seven-game series against the Sharks.

But beneath the appearance of a sturdy exterior, the Kings had some fractures -- including some possible literal ones involving injuries -- and the Blackhawks eliminated them in five games as Patrick Kane completed a hat trick in overtime of Game 5.

The Hawks are expecting a more daunting Kings team this season as they prepare to clash for a third straight year in the Western Conference finals beginning Sunday at the United Center.

"A lot has changed," Hawks winger Brandon Saad said.

Besides apparently being healthier than last season when Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll saw time on the bench and a rash of others played through injuries, the Kings added new personnel this season to ignite an offense that now is paired with a trademark stellar defense.

The Kings averaged 1.86 goals per game in last season's playoffs before facing the Blackhawks compared to 3.21 at the same point this season.

Winger Marian Gaborik, who played earlier this season with the Blue Jackets, has scored nine playoff goals with six assists.

"They have guys who can make plays, quick strikers offensively off of what you give them," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They can make you play. That's something we have to be aware of."

A 6-2 road victory Friday night wrapped up their series against the Ducks -- and impressed the Blackhawks.

"They play that tight defensive game, but they do have a lot of guys who can score goals," Saad said. "When they get rolling -- as you saw (against the Ducks) -- they can bury the puck."

While the Blackhawks said they have benefited from four days of rest after finishing off the Wild, there are two ways to view the Kings.

They either are riding momentum (like last season) or they are bone tired (like perhaps last season as well).

The Kings had just one day of rest sandwiched between Game 7 and Game 1. And that day included a practice in Los Angeles followed by a long flight.

"It's huge for us," Saad said. "They have a travel day and a tough Game 7. Coming out flying, it's what we do best in our building. And with our fans behind us, that's how we want to play."

Last season's playoffs -- and even the three-game regular-season sweep by the Hawks -- will not be a factor, defenseman Brent Seabrook said.

"It's tough to compare year to year, even regular season to playoffs," he said. "They're playing really well right now, so we have to be focused on what they have been doing the last couple of series and the way they're playing."

The Kings' resiliency merited high praise from the Hawks, who know even a quick jump on them may not be enough. The Kings lost three straight to start their series against the Sharks before storming back and dropped three straight to fall behind 3-2 to the Ducks before winning the last two games.

"Seems like they're never out of a game or out of a series," Seabrook said. "If we get up, we have to step on their throats. If we're down, we have to work like hell to get back. We have to focus on our game and focus on what we have been doing, get better at that and be the team that we can be."

The Hawks take the Kings seriously, Quenneville said, but they're feeling good about their own chances.

"I like the way we practiced," he said. "I like the way we won some big games later in both series, going through two real good tests for our team. We should feel good about winning those series and getting some momentum out of it.

"We know we have a tough opponent. But we have home ice, too. There are some positive things going into (Sunday's) game. Let's be excited in that regard and place an emphasis on getting off to a great start."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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