Following a brief hiatus between rounds we are back at it here at The Sports Geek for your NHL Conference Finals previews. We enter the third round of post-season action with a 13-10 record on our featured picks, and 47-33 with them over the course of the entire year. Tonight, both series kick off with the defending champion Los Angeles Kings taking on the Blackhawks, and in the East the Pens will host the Boston Bruins. This year’s version of the final four is especially interesting as it represents the four most recent Cup winners. For the record, our predictions for both of these series heading into them are the Kings in 6 games and the Penguins in 6 games. Expect both match-ups to be very physical and feature a ton of skill and speed. Read on below for tonight’s Game 1 thoughts as well as another featured pick winner.
Los Angeles Kings (+150) @ Chicago Blackhawks (-170)
To have the L.A. Kings, the defending Cup champs, as such sizable Game 1 underdogs is a tad baffling. For one, they enter the fresher team getting that extra day of rest, and secondly they enter the more confident group playing better hockey. The Kings avoided a very solid San Jose team, while the Blackhawks stumbled against an overachieving Detroit team that had them up against the ropes. The Kings won this trophy last season with virtually the same group and know precisely what it takes to do it again. They’ll know the value of stealing Game 1 on the road, and at this monstrous underdog price, they represent some high value.
For me, the biggest difference in tonigth’s game and all the remaining games throughout the series will be the match-up of Jonathan Quick of the Kings against Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks. Following an average regular season campaign, the ‘King of the Spring’ Jon Quick has once again taken his game to another level. He was simply unreal against the Sharks and was likely the only reason they prevailed in seven games, and look for him to be every bit as good against the Blackhawks as well. Quick enters this series with a miniscule 1.50 goals-against-average, and a .948 save percentage, with three shutouts. The Blues and Sharks couldn’t solve him, and the Blackhawks won’t be able to either. Keep in mind, this is a Chicago team that struggled for major stretches against Jimmy Howard and a very average Detroit defense. The Kings probably possess the best 6-man defensive group in the game, so don’t be shocked to see Chicago have some power outages from key players.
Another big reason for liking the Kings tonight is the fact that key forward Jarrett Stoll is inching closer to a return from a head injury and could return for Game 1. Stoll is an integral part of Los Angeles’ success. He kills penalties, and wins huge face-offs, two skills that you can’t have enough of in the post-season. His return gives the Kings more versatility and puts a lot more pressure on Chicago to chase the puck to obtain scoring chances.
Expect a typical Daryl Sutter-led road performance in Game 1 from the Kings. Last post-season they thrived on the road, and look for a return to that tonight. Their big, physical forwards will set a tone from the opening whistle, pushing around the skilled players and soft defense of the Blackhawks. Much of Chicago’s allure wore off in an unimpressive showing to Detroit, and bank on the Hawks getting exposed by last season’s Cup victors. Jon Quick keeps his team in every game, and the same can’t be said for his opponent Corey Crawford. That’s a huge win for the Kings and look for them to head into the Windy City and steal Game 1 from Chicago.
PICK = L.A. Kings (+150)