How does a team such as the Blackhawks, with only 7 regulation losses during the season and winner of the Presidents' Trophy with 77 points in a 48-game schedule, become an underdog in the conference finals?
Two words: Jonathan Quick.
The Los Angeles Kings goalie has been that good for the last two postseasons.
Last year, Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after leading the Kings to the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed. This year he has picked up where he left off, leading all goaltenders through two rounds with a 1.50 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and 3 shutouts.
Solving Quick will be the Hawks' main priority in the Western Conference finals that begin Saturday at the United Center.
"He's a great goalie and he is proving it in back-to-back years in the playoffs," Hawks winger Marian Hossa said.
Quick loves to get out at the top of the blue paint and challenge shooters. He is excellent down low and going side to side so getting traffic in front of him is important, but Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said there is no so-called "book" on how to beat Quick.
"You can talk about it anyway you want, but if there was one way to beat him then everybody would be beating him," Sharp said. "It's easier said than done.
"He's an exciting goalie to watch. He's got that powerful push and he's always challenging and battling. I'm a player who is supposed to score goals so I never worry about the goalie doing. I just want to shoot the puck whenever I can and hope it goes in. I've got a lot of things to worry about and Quick is just one of them."
Hawks goalie Corey Crawford admires how Quick plays.
"He goes after everything, never gives up, covers the bottom of the net so well," Crawford said. "Definitely, you (want to) compete (against him), but my focus is on their forwards, their players, their tendencies. That's my job. Obviously, I want to beat him. I want to move on. I want to get to the Finals."
Crawford couldn't care less that Quick is getting more attention than him.
"I don't think it really matters, to be honest, whether people are talking about my performance or not," Crawford said. "It doesn't change what I have to do. He has played well. Obviously, he won last year and is played really well last year in the playoffs. He's playing well again this year. I have a lot of respect for him, but I'm just worried about my game. Focus on what I have to do."
Beating Quick will be only part of the problem for the Hawks. Getting to him won't be easy either because of the Kings' big, mobile and physical defense led by Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Rob Scuderi, Jake Muzzin and Robyn Regehr. Matt Greene has also returned to the lineup after missing most of the season with an injury.
"I think we want to make sure that we're disciplined and we want to make sure when we're hitting or counter-hitting, we go to the hard areas, make sure when we get pucks in behind them, hopefully spend some time in their end," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We expect a hard forecheck and hard game against us. We want to do what we can physically as well."
This will be a series of contrasting styles with the Hawks' speed and skill going against the physical Kings.
"We like to think we can play in those types of games," Sharp said. "We'll find out Saturday what kind of series it's going to be. We all anticipate a fast-paced, physical one.
"They're big and they do a good job of protecting the net. Hopefully we can use our speed and our skill to kind of neutralize that."
People praised the Hawks for the style they played against the Red Wings compared to the Kings and Sharks in the other West series, but Quenneville doesn't know if that same style will work against Los Angeles.
"I don't know," he said. "I watched that first-round series with St. Louis. Out of all the series, that probably was the most exciting and competitive to watch. You might not think that's pretty hockey, but it's intense. We expect a hard and fast series. I think I'm not really measuring the entertainment value, but I expect it will be entertaining."
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