Western Conference showdown starts Sunday, Hawks face the Kings - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Western Conference showdown starts Sunday, Hawks face the Kings

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The Blackhawks will face the Los Angeles Kings to determine which team will represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. The series will begin on Sunday afternoon at the United Center. Of the four teams remaining in the playoffs the Hawks accumulated the most points in the regular season. So if they advance they will have home ice in the next round as well.

Los Angeles represents a challenge as they are team deep down the middle and have a goaltender that can steal a game or more in a series.

They are unlike the previous two opponents of the Blackhawks as the Kings have winning playoffs experience and are a recent Cup champion. They also have a head coach that manages the regular season as if he is tuning up for the playoffs.

The Kings have flashed signs of being a team of destiny. They have faced elimination six times in the postseason and have survived. They dug themselves a 3-0 hole in Round 1 versus San Jose, but would not be denied. They won the opening two games on the road versus the Ducks only to lose the next three but still advanced. They are battled tested and know how to win big games.

The Kings were a 2012 Cup winner and they have many pluses but one has to wonder how much gas they have left. They played two very physical series and now will have to buckle up and get right back at it tomorrow afternoon with little rest.

The LA power play has been good in the playoffs and their penalty killing hasn’t been so hot. That’s just the opposite of what occurred during the regular season. They are a good faceoff team and this will be the third straight year for LA to play in the Western Conference Final. They are consistent and very well coached.

The battle level for the Blackhawks will need to improve to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It is not as if the players didn’t try versus the Wild, they always try. Judging from the caliber of play and comments made afterward the Hawks underestimated their opponent.

Minnesota played great and the Blackhawks had some good periods but overall didn’t sustain their best stride. The result was a very hard fought series and if not for some great performances from Corey Crawford the outcome would have been different. This time more consistency will be needed.

Joel Quenneville has still been tinkering with line combinations. It will be more important now to have solid contributions from the third and fourth lines. The Chicago defense needs to play with confidence and help ignite the offense.

Except for Andrew Shaw the rest of the club is healthy enough to begin the Conference Final. It has been reported Shaw will begin skating this weekend and without a setback could be ready to return soon.

The fatigue factor will likely be the biggest worry for the Hawks but they have played two fewer games than LA in the postseason. Between last year’s Cup run, the Olympics and the grind of the regular season it is logical to think the Blackhawks are tired. They have looked that way at times and have made some mental mistakes as well. Legs are not the only thing to grow weary as mental fatigue takes a toll also.

Playing Game 1 at home on Sunday should be an advantage. Sometimes a team coming off a five day break may take some time to find their legs. That could be an issue for the Blackhawks but LA should be running on fumes after playing in an elimination game on Friday night. If the Kings hit the ice more focused they could steal a quick advantage with a Game 1 victory. If that happens Hawks will need to right the ship quickly.

In my book after a club wins the Cup and follows it up by getting to the Conference Final it is a job well done. If the Hawks can advance to defend their title it will be another remarkable achievement. Chicago fans have been spoiled over the last five years as this has been a magical run.

The Blackhawks will deserve recognition as a dynasty if they can win back to back Cups. To win their third Stanley Cup since 2010 would be an epic accomplishment, especially in a hard salary cap league. For that to happen the Hawks will have to reach a higher level.

At this point the Blackhawks could fight through fatigue and play their best hockey of the post season versus LA. They have one of the best big game goaltenders in Corey Crawford. A head coach who has a great deal of confidence in his squad and has full reign to do what he thinks best. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have probably already earned first ballot hall of fame status and they are just entering their prime.

This has been a special group and their best trait is they are a highly competitive bunch of winners. No matter what, they can’t be counted out and although they haven’t played their best this next challenge is well within reach.

This series hinges on if the Hawks can ramp up their level of play. As has been my thinking for quite awhile, the best from the Blackhawks makes them better than every other club.

You can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia and I will be back on Monday morning.

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