Hawks winger Marian Hossa, hounded by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall, says there will be even less room to skate against the Kings. | Paul Sancya~AP
Updated: June 1, 2013 12:49AM
There were times when the Blackhawks-Red Wings second-round series was simply breathtaking hockey, end-to-end action between teams built on speed and skill.
Even though Detroit did everything it could to hound, harass and hinder the Hawks — pinning their defensemen in the offensive zone, ganging up on their forwards in the neutral zone and clogging up the slot in front of their own net — it was riveting stuff.
Well, if you liked that series, winger Marian Hossa has some bad news for you.
“You thought there was little room against the Red Wings, against the Kings, there’s going to be a little less,” Hossa said.
The Kings don’t do pretty. They’re a big, intimidating team that grinds opponents into submission, winning 2-1 games on the strength of their defense and goalie Jonathan Quick. The Kings have scored two goals or fewer in nine of 13 playoff games but are averaging a league-high 41.2 hits per game in the playoffs, compared with only 24.9 for the Hawks.
So while the Red Wings tried to stall the Hawks, the Kings will try to maul them. The Hawks hope to use their speed advantage — the Kings skate very well for a team of their size, but few teams can truly skate with the Hawks — to get around the hits and get through the neutral zone unscathed.
“Against Detroit, they seemed to kind of latch on, really hold you, not give you much space,” winger Patrick Kane said. “Sometimes against more physical teams, maybe they’re running around a little bit, you can catch a little extra space. Especially against [the Kings], it seems like they want to finish a lot of their hits.”
The Hawks, physically and emotionally drained from the Red Wings series, are bracing for the battle.
“They know they’re a big, strong team, and they’re going to do everything they can to come out and hit us as much as possible,” said winger Viktor Stalberg, one of the Hawks’ speediest skaters. “But I think we’re a pretty strong group here, and we’re fast enough to escape their hits. We’ll do everything we can to match their physicality and find a way to wear them down, too.”
To give the Hawks a little extra size up top, coach Joel Quenneville broke up the ‘‘superline’’ he assembled to jump-start the offense against Detroit. Jonathan Toews has Hossa back on his right wing and big Bryan Bickell on his left.
“He’s going to do his thing, be physical, throw his body around,” Toews said of Bickell, who has five goals this postseason. “It’ll be fun.”
Even if it’s not pretty. Kings coach Darryl Sutter bristled at the idea that his team plays an ugly game, and general manager Dean Lombardi said that the opening-round series between the Kings and Blues — two of the most physical, defensive-minded teams — generated more “buzz” in Los Angeles than last year’s Stanley Cup finals did.
Quenneville agreed, saying that was the “most exciting and competitive first-round series to watch.” And he was looking forward to this clash of styles.
“You might not think that’s pretty hockey, but it’s intense,” Quenneville said.
“We expect a hard and fast series. I’m not really measuring the entertainment value, but I expect it will be entertaining.”