Third-round preview: Hawks-Kings

"Just seems like his job has gotten tougher and tougher over the last few years," Hawks captain Toews told reporters in Chicago on Friday. "Even him being a huge part of our Stanley Cup-winning team last year, it doesn't seem like it's getting easier for him. But he keeps rising to challenges, picking his game up and improving in so many ways, especially mentally, to be able to handle that pressure. I feel like after every game I'm answering questions about him and I joke I'm running out of things to say. But that pretty much sums it up right there with the way he's matured as a player."

Fatal Flaw

Kings: Injured blue line

Somehow the Kings beat the first-place Anaheim Ducks missing two-thirds of the left side of their defense in Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell. They're not the same players they once were, but they're still important penalty killers. Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz have filled in admirably, but that's still a step down. Mitchell skated with his teammates for the first time at Friday's Game 7 morning skate, but it's still not clear what the timetable for his return is. We haven't seen Regehr on skates since he sustained an injury versus the Ducks in Game 1.

If there's any way the Kings get even one of those veterans back that's an important development. The wear and tear on Doughty & Co. over 14 games can't be overlooked.

Blackhawks: Forward depth

Is there a flaw with the defending champs? We asked that question to a Western Conference NHL head coach and here's his response via text message: "I would have said, do they really want to go through the grind, but now they are so close I don't think that's a flaw. They are pretty freakin' complete. Only thing maybe is not as much bottom-six (forward) depth."

Getting Andrew Shaw back would certainly be a big help in solidifying the Hawks' top nine. The injured forward hasn't played since Game 1 of the previous round versus Minnesota. Shaw did not skate Friday but Quenneville told media in Chicago that the team was hoping he would skate this weekend at some point.

The biggest flaw perhaps is that the Hawks haven't been consistent the whole postseason, especially coming in and out of their series versus Minnesota. They can't afford that against the Kings.

Prediction

You hate to ever pick against the Kings because they just keep showing they know how to win at this time of year. But the short turnaround between series and the 14 games played ... I just think the Blackhawks are rested and have home-ice advantage, which might just be the sliver of a difference they need. But it's going to be awfully close. Toss-up of a series for me.
Blackhawks in 7 (plus overtime)

ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers contributed to this report.

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