Kings vs. Blackhawks: Western Conference finals preview

The last four Stanley Cup champions advanced to this season's conference finals, a remarkable feat in an era of parity created by the NHL's salary cap. Here's how they match up:

(Editor's note: Helene Elliott has picked 11 of 12 series correctly, and predicted the exact number of games six times. The Hall of Fame hockey writer's only misstep was picking the New York Rangers over Boston):

1. CHICAGO 36-7-5 (77 points)

Rd. 1: def. Minnesota, 4-1.

Rd. 2: def. Detroit, 4-3.

5. KINGS 27-16-5 (59 points)

Rd. 1: def. St. Louis, 4-2.

Rd. 2: def. San Jose, 4-3.

Season series: Blackhawks, 2-1.

Playoff power play: Blackhawks 16.2% (10th). Kings 20.0% (seventh).

Playoff penalty killing: Blackhawks 97.6% (first). Kings 86.0% (fifth).

Playoff leading scorers: Blackhawks, Patrick Sharp 7-4—11; Kings, Mike Richards 2-8—10.

Outlook: Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said every West rival had to prepare to face the Blackhawks — whose great start marked them as a home-ice team and Cup contender — so the Kings are prepared for a tough test. Chicago has game-breaking forwards in Sharp, Marian Hossa (five goals, 11 points) and Patrick Kane (two goals, nine points) and has gotten five goals from Bryan Bickell. Jonathan Toews has only one goal and six points and is minus-2 defensively, but that can change quickly. The Hawks' penalty killing has been stellar, and Corey Crawford has good numbers (1.70 goals-against average, .938 save percentage) but occasionally allows soft goals. The key will be if whether the Hawks can stand up to the big, physical Kings, who have averaged more than 41 hits per game. However, the Kings are scoring an average of only two goals per game. Goalie Jonathan Quick (1.50, .948, three shutouts) has been as good — if not better — than his Conn Smythe performance of a year ago (most valuable player in playoffs), and makes those two-goal outbursts hold up. The Kings are 7-0 at home but only 1-5 on the road.

West prediction: The Hawks have the edge up front, the Kings in size and in goal. Kings in seven.

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