Chicago Blackhawks – Los Angeles Kings
Whilst the East may have an unfamiliar feel to its’ final, over in the West with Chicago and LA returning it's a straight up rematch of last year's festivities.
The Kings played a phenomenal Game 7 on Friday to finally oust Anaheim but the history books suggest that coming through one decider, never mind two as they have done, puts you at a disadvantage moving into the later rounds. They essentially ran out of steam in 2013 and Chicago skated to a relatively comfortable 4-1 series victory. Patrick Kane scored the overtime goal to end that series just as he did earlier in the week to knock out Minnesota.
I can't imagine it being as simple this time around though, despite a couple of injuries to Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell at the blueline the Kings are in better shape thanks to both personnel additions and the better form of their offence. For the Blackhawks it's largely the same team that went on to win it all in 2013 and the central nucleus remains from 2010 too, both these clubs continually produce their best at this stage of the season and the winner of this matchup is likely to be instilled as favourites for the finals.
A reason why Darryl Sutter's men ended up burnt out was their high intensity approach. At almost 45 a game they're averaging over double the hits of their opponents which makes for an interesting contrast of styles.
Don't expect them to alter that philosophy just to impose it in more focused situations like stepping into the Hawks at the blueline. It's easier said than done to prevent an excellent team setting up in the offensive zone but Minnesota proved it could be done by holding them to only six goals in the final four games.
Seventeen of Chicago's 35 playoff goals have come from the sticks of Kane, Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews, however this is the first time the latter will be matched up with a center close to his level in Anze Kopitar.
LA's victories have come in streaks that ended up running to three or more through the first two rounds, and they're up to two straight once again.
Despite the fact Chicago are yet to lose at United Center I think the long odds make the Kings worth backing here.
Best Bet: Los Angeles Kings to win at 3.25.