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KEYS TO VICTORY: Hawks have work cut out for them against Kings

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) deflects shot during third period against San Jose Sharks Game 5 Western Conference

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) deflects a shot during the third period against the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Thursday, May 23, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Updated: May 31, 2013 9:38AM



There are two ways to look at the Blackhawks’ state of mind — and state of body — after an exhausting seven-game series against the Detroit Red Wings. Either they’re riding high on momentum and confidence, or they’re emotionally spent. With back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday at the United Center to open the Western Conference final against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, we’ll know soon enough which it is.

“We need to use this energy and keep this thing going,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.

Easier said than done. Here are three keys to the series for the Hawks.

1. Cut to the Quick

NOTEWORTHY: Since a disastrous start to the first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has been brilliant, already making his case for a second consecutive Conn Smythe. It helps having a defensive-minded, shot-blocking team in front of him, but Quick has been the star of the 2013 playoffs so far, with a 1.50 GAA and .948 save percentage (including three shutouts) through 13 games.

Against the Hawks, though, he gave up 12 goals in three regular-season games. The Kings forwards have struggled on offense, scoring just one or two goals in nine of 13 postseason games. So if the Hawks can clog the crease and get the greasy, close-range goals they started getting against the Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard in the final three games of the second round, they can make things difficult on a team that’s built to protect a lead, not chase one.

QUOTEWORTHY: “They don’t give up a lot of goals,” Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “Quick is unbelievable. Their defense and their forwards help him out quite a bit. We need to play our game and play with speed.”

2. Stay upright

NOTEWORTHY: The Kings aren’t just big and physical. They’re incredibly big and incredibly physical. Among their forwards are 6-5 Dustin Penner, 6-4 Jeff Carter and Dwight King, and 6-3 Jordan Nolan and Anze Kopitar. They average 41.2 hits per game (the Hawks average 24.9).

Physical teams have worn down the Hawks at times, and while the Hawks like to say they’re capable of giving as much as they’re taking, they’d be wise to take a lesson from Patrick Kane — who has an uncanny knack for avoiding contact — and try to use their speed to get around the Kings rather than go through them. Easier said than done, given up how much space they take up, and how well they skate.

QUOTEWORTHY:“They’re tough to play against, that’s for sure,” Kane said. “Goals and chances will be hard to come by.”

3. Power surge

NOTEWORTHY: For a while there, it appeared the Hawks finally had solved their power-play woes, with three consecutive scores with the man advantage between Games 5 and 6. Then, the unit immediately regressed, going without a goal in their last eight chances. In four chances in Game 7, the Hawks had just three shots on goal. Given how difficult it is to score on Quick and the Kings defense, getting a few on the power play could be the difference in all the expected 2-1 and 3-2 games.

The Kings’ penalty-killing unit has been somewhat schizophrenic. At home, they killed off all 12 Sharks’ power plays and 18 of 19 overall. On the road, they have allowed five power-play goals in 24 chances.

QUOTEWORTHY: “Special teams can make all the difference,” Marian Hossa said. “We feel confident in what we’re doing on the power play.”

Prediction: Kings in 7

Both teams are weary and surely banged-up after grueling seven-game series. An extra day off helps the Kings as the teams brace for back-to-back games this weekend. If the Kings can steal one at the United Center, they will have the inside track, as they’ve been perfect at home all season. In the end, the Kings’ rare combination of physicality and skating ability makes the difference in a terrific goaltending duel, and they will move on to face the Boston Bruins in the finals.



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