It tells you something about the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks that despite playing in the conference with a deeper pool of legit contenders, they've found a way to stage a reprise of last year's Western Conference finals.
"It's going to be a tough matchup; Chicago is a very, very good team as everyone knows," star Kings blueliner Drew Doughty said Friday night. "We're a very good team, too. We know the things and reasons why we lost last year, so we need to fix those things."
And like last year, the Kings enter the Final Four after surviving a grind to get there, a pair of seven-game series that gave them the California State hockey title with wins over the Sharks and Ducks. Mind you, they didn't have to get on a plane in the second round, so that helps their fatigue level.
But the Kings are the Kings, always refusing to die, 6-0 this spring in elimination games, erasing a 3-0 series lead against San Jose and a 3-2 series deficit versus Anaheim, showing once again why they're one of the NHL's toughest outs the past three years.
In fact, they've now played 52 playoff games over three playoff years -- the most by any NHL team during that span -- a Stanley Cup in 2012 followed by back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals, showing they are built for this time of year.
"I mean, we're not playing for the conference finals, so it feels good now but we've got one goal in mind. It's not a secret," Kings star center Anze Kopitar said Friday night.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, had their biggest test in the opening round when they went down 2-0 to the powerhouse St. Louis Blues but rallied to win that series in six games. It was an impressive way to get things going. The Minnesota Wild probably gave Chicago more of test in the second round than most would have predicted, but handing the Wild their first home loss of the postseason to end the series was sweet.
The Blackhawks enter the Western Conference finals in a pretty positive frame of mind.
"I mean the first one was a pretty strong matchup against St. Louis," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford told reporters in Chicago on Friday. "Maybe something you could see later on in the playoffs. We came out of that series with a lot of confidence, winning that. Playing Minnesota, that was a strong team that definitely gave us a test, to win in Game 6 was really important I think to get the extra rest. Winning the way we did, too, on the road, after losing two in their building, that gave us even more confidence for this next series."
Kings: Anze Kopitar
The NHL's leading playoff scorer goes head-to-head with another stud two-way center in Jonathan Toews of the Hawks. Both were nominated for the Selke Trophy along with Boston's Patrice Bergeron this season for the top defensive forward in the NHL. Kopitar just went head-to-head with Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf and won that battle, so let's hope people around the league have realized by now that Kopitar stands with the very best centers in the world.