I don’t think anyone though the 2014 Western Conference Finals could be decided in five games, let alone that the defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks could be on the wrong end.
Four games in, the Los Angeles Kings lead the series against the Blackhawks 3-1, while outscoring them by a total of 16-10. The Kings have been winning one-on-one puck battles, dominating both ends of the rink and–most importantly–were able to crack the 13-goal series cap limit Chicago had imposed on both St. Louis and Minnesota in just seven periods of play. Aside from an opponent scoring more goals, this should be new territory for the Blackhawks; after all, the Kings are playing a remarkably similar style of play to the Minnesota Wild.
A big reason why Chicago has hit a plateau is lack of goal support and a struggling goaltender. Los Angeles center Jeff Carter leads all skaters in series scoring with four goals and nine points while goaltender Jonathan Quick has outdueled Chicago’s Corey Crawford for a 2.54 series goals against average. On the other end of the spectrum, Chicago’s normally reliable forward quartet of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp has combined for four goals and six assists for 10 points and a negative-7 rating in four games. At the same time, Crawford has allowed 14 goals on 108 shots for a .868 save percentage after allowing 25 goals and notching an 8-4 record, a .927 save percentage and a shutout in 12 games against the Blues and Wild. Something has definitely gotten under this Blackhawks team.
Though it’s borderline wishful thinking to suggest Minnesota got under Chicago’s skin, there may be some truth to it. Sure, the Blackhawks won in six games, but like Colorado, they really only deserved to win Game Two. The Wild never gave up, coming back from a 0-2 series deficit and nearly forcing Game Seven until Kane pounced on an unfortunate bounce off a stanchion. You can bet Kane meant every word when he told coach Yeo he had a heck of a hockey team.
Minnesota is a year or so away from being on par with the Kings, with goaltending currently standing as the biggest difference and, believe me, it’s the difference between a monster truck and my Ford Ranger. However, it sure would’ve been a fun series to watch.