NHL playoffs: Nothing will come easy for Kings, Hawks
Chicago • For all the difficulties they endured along the way, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are still standing.
They might want to buckle up, though. The ride could get even wilder.
The Blackhawks and Kings are poised for what could be a tight and lengthy Western Conference finals, with Game 1 at the United Center on Saturday.
The Kings already have more playoff losses than they did a year ago when they went on a 16-4 run through the postseason to capture the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.
"I cited critical moments last year," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. "There were several of them this year where they were severely tested. They keep finding a way to fight through, as they've done at times during the playoffs."
All they did was rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat Detroit in the conference semifinals, taking Game 7 by 2-1 on Brent Seabrook's overtime goal to remain in the hunt for their second title in four years.
"You don't draw it up, you don't plan to win a seven-game series coming back from 3-1," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Looking back, I think it is a good thing for our team to have gone through what we just went through, to kind of be pushed to the end, for a moment [to] feel like that was it. You have certain negative thoughts that kind of creep in. You try not to think about them, that you're up against a tough team and the odds are against you.
"But we stayed positive. We stuck with it. We just had that attitude that you take it one shift at the same time, you win one game at a time, anything can happen."
The next challenge is a big one, too. No goalie is more on his game at the moment than the Kings' Jonathan Quick. All the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has done is allow just 20 goals in 13 postseason games while carrying Los Angeles to its second straight conference final.
Penguins vs. Bruins
Pittsburgh • The NHL's most unlikely postseason success story is nearly bald, his hairline an unwitting casualty to three decades spent hidden under a goaltender's mask.
All those long winters including 16 in the best league in the world never led to long springs, however, for Tomas Vokoun. Until now.
Halfway through the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs the two-time All-Star turned journeyman backup holds the key to the Pittsburgh Penguins' playoff hopes. He is, for the first time in his life, the "hot goalie" during the most important time of year.
Heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins Saturday night, Vokoun's numbers appear to be a misprint. Seven starts. Six wins. One very stoic and largely anonymous presence at the back of Pittsburgh's star-laden attack.
"You just know that you're playing well, you're trying to do the right things," Vokoun said. "You try not to treat it any differently, even if you know the stakes are just getting bigger."
Vokoun never played on a team that made it past the opening round of the postseason until Pittsburgh ousted the Islanders in six games three weeks ago.
O Conference finals
• Los Angeles at Chicago, 3 p.m., NBCSN
• Boston at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m., Ch. 5