News and notes as the Western Conference finals kicks off today between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting Los Angeles Kings [3 p.m., NBC] at the United Center:
It doesn’t matter where you finish: For the first time since 1993 none of the four division champions are playing in the conference finals.
While the Bruins [Atlantic champs, 117 points], Penguins [Metropolitan, 109], Avalanche [Central, 112] and Ducks [Pacific, 116] prepare for their offseasons, the Blackhawks [107 points] are taking on the Kings [100 points] and the Canadiens [100 points] are facing the Rangers [96 points].
Familiar faces: This is the second straight Western Conference finals matchup between the Hawks and Kings.
Chicago won in five games a year ago. In the deciding game Kings center Mike Richards scored the tying goal with 9.4 seconds remaining in regulation, only to see Patrick Kane complete a hat trick with the series-clincher 11:40 into double overtime. This marks the third all-time postseason meeting between the Kings and Blackhawks. Their only other matchup came in 1974 when the Hawks won in five games.
This is also the first time the Western Conference final has featured the same two teams in back-to-back seasons since 1999 and 2000 when the Stars twice defeated the Avalanche to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Best vs. best: The WCF features the NHL’s leading scorer in the playoffs, Kings forward Anze Kopitar [19 points in 14 games] against the NHL’s leading playoff goaltender, Chicago’s Corey Crawford [1.97 GAA, .931 save percentage].
Odds and ends: Before these conference finals began, Bovada had these odds for winning the Stanley Cup: Blackhawks 7/4; Canandiens 11/4; Rangers 7/2; and Kings 11/2. For the money, I’ll take those darkhorses from LalaLand. As for Conn Smythe candidates as playoff MVP, Bovada had the following odds:
Jonathan Toews (CHI) 4/1
Carey Price (MON) 9/2
Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) 5/1
Corey Crawford (CHI) 7/1
P.K. Subban (MON) 8/1
Ryan Getzlaf (ANA) 12/1
Anze Kopitar (LA) 12/1
Patrick Kane (CHI) 15/1
Marian Hossa (CHI) 16/1
Marian Gaborik (NY) 16/1
Corey Perry (ANA) 20/1
Jonathan Quick (LA) 20/1
Martin St. Louis (NYR) 20/1
John Gibson (ANA) 25/1
Max Pacioretty (MON) 35/1
Brad Richards (NYR) 35/1
Mats Zuccarello (NYR) 35/1
Thomas Vanek (MON) 40/1
What the Blackhawks are saying:
“Seems like they're never out of a game or out of a series. If we're down, we got to work like hell to get back.” – defenseman Brent Seabrook on the Kings roaring back from 3-0 and 3-1 series deficits to get to the conference finals
“We played a lot of hockey in a short period of time last year with the lockout, short summer. A bunch of us played in the Olympics. It's been a long grind, but we couldn't be more excited to be where we are right now.” - forward Patrick Sharp on the Blackhawks playing more games in the past year than any other NHL team.
What the Kings are saying:
“We talked about this all year. They're the last team to beat us in the playoffs. They're the team that has the Cup. If we want another shot at it, we knew it was probably going to have to be down this road.” – coach Brent Sutter on facing the Hawks
“Last year they definitely had our number, dominated the series. That's not something you think about now, but it's something in the back of your head.” - forward Dustin Brown on losing to the Blackhawks in five games last year