The Los Angeles Kings have two more chances to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks and reach their second Stanley Cup Final in three seasons, but make no mistake, they must end the series on home ice Friday night because a Game 7 at the United Center would be an incredible challenge.
Los Angeles could have ended the series in Game 5, but it lost in double overtime when Michal Handzus finally made a positive contribution to the series and netted the game-winner. With that said, the Kings should be confident back at Staples Center, where they are 5-2-1 in the playoffs and 2-0 in this Western Conference final.
Check out our preview of Game 6 below.
Friday, May 30 at 9:00 p.m. ET. TV: NBC Sports Network
Top Storyline: Can Chicago Keep Its Late-Series Success Going?
The Blackhawks don’t get rattled late in playoff series, and there are a few reasons for that. They have a roster full of Stanley Cup champions, including many players who have tasted championship success multiple times. Chicago also has several players, including former Conn Smythe Trophy winners Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, with reputations as big-game performers. After their Game 5 win to extend the series, Chicago now has won 11 straight Game 5-7s, which shows its remarkable ability to make the clutch plays when needed.
The key for the Blackhawks is to get an early lead and take the raucous Staples Center crowd out of the game. Chicago jumped out to 2-0 and 3-1 leads in Game 5, and even though it allowed Los Angeles to come back and take the lead, the energy that the defending champs brought to the ice from the first puck drop was an encouraging sign for head coach Joel Quenneville. The Blackhawks need to bring that same intensity to Game 6 because the Kings will be fired up at home and will have the matchup battle advantage with the last line change.
Goaltending Matchup: Jonathan Quick (LAK) vs. Corey Crawford (CHI)
Corey Crawford was horrible in Game 5. His rebound control was poor, he didn’t pick up the puck well in traffic and he failed to catch anything cleanly. To his credit, he was much better in the third period and overtimes, but Crawford must play at a higher level for the Blackhawks to force a decisive Game 7. He’s given up four-plus goals in four straight games, and his save percentage in the Western Conference final is just .882, compared to .935 in Round 2 and .926 in Round 2. In the Kings’ three victories this series, they have scored 13 goals on just 82 shots. If Crawford gives up a goal or two early in this game, don’t be surprised if Quenneville turns to rookie Antti Raanta.
Jonathan Quick didn’t play much better Wednesday night. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner made some quality saves in Game 5, but giving up five goals is going to result in a Kings loss 99 percent of the time because they don’t have the offensive firepower or depth to win high-scoring games against the Blackhawks. He’s given up 10 goals in his last three games with a .894 save percentage in the series. Quick usually plays poorly to start a series then turns it on and dominates toward the end (we saw this in the first two rounds and in the 2013 playoffs). The opposite seems to be happening in this West Final.
Prediction: Blackhawks Win 4-2, Force Game 7
It’s hard to pick against the Blackhawks in a crucial game, even on the road. Since the beginning of their 2010 championship run, Chicago has won eight of its last nine Game 6s (six of those wins were on the road). The ‘Hawks also have won four consecutive elimination games and have come back from a 3-1 deficit recently (2013 West Semis versus Detroit).
We know that Kane and Toews likely will play well, so for the Blackhawks to win, they need great performances from veteran wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Sharp has one meaningless goal in the final seconds of Game 3, and Hossa has failed to find the back of the net in this series. At some point, these guys need to produce offensively.
Chicago was able to set the tempo and play a wide open, high-scoring Game 5. That’s not the style of hockey Los Angeles wants to play given its lack of elite scoring skill. Expect the Blackhawks to establish that same pace in Game 6 and take the series back home.