Now that the National Hockey League playoffs are down to the final four teams, the light at the end of the tunnel nears. The four remaining teams — the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens — are less than 10 wins away from the coveted Stanley Cup. But it won’t be an easy road: There’s a reason all four have made it this far. Looking forward (and backwards, as each series is one game in), a variety of matchups and how they play out will determine the series. These are the things that will make and break each series.
These matchups won’t go unnoticed, either. Whether it’s goaltending, special teams, or just a team’s defensive unit, these are factors that can change a club’s fate (for good or for bad, in some cases). So as these two series get going, there will be certain aspects to watch for — not just game-changing type of aspects, but series-changing ones. Here are four potential matchups that could make or break their respective series.
1. Blackhawks’ offense vs. Kings’ defense
This will assuredly be one of the most intriguing matchups of the entire postseason, let alone this round. At the conclusion of the regular season, the Kings had the league’s best defense, allowing 2.05 goals per game. Defenseman Drew Doughty has been the anchor of this tough defensive unit, and he’s played magnificently throughout the playoffs. But as good as Los Angeles has been defensively, the Blackhawks have been good offensively. They finished the regular season with the second most goals scored per game (3.18) and they have a lot of firepower.
Unfortunately for the Kings, they’re missing two important pieces in their stonewall defensive unit. Both Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell — two of the team’s top defensemen — will be out for what appears to be the majority of the series. And goalie Jonathan Quick hasn’t been stellar throughout the playoffs, either. Without a full defensive corps and an above-average Quick, it seems likely that Chicago’s offensive attack — led by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Brent Seabrook — will be too much to handle. If the Kings rally behind the play of Quick and Doughty, though, and combine that with their momentum, they might find themselves back in the Stanley Cup Finals. Either way, this will be a matchup worth watching.