No team who has played back to back seven game series in the first two rounds has ever advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. Are the Kings a team of destiny, or does the fatigue finally catch up with them?
Well, 2012 was the destiny year, so I think we can rule that out. As for fatigue, I actually think the Kings are less exhausted this year than they were last year. The Blues (ha!) and the Sharks (HA!) took a lot out of the Kings, and it came after a 48-game season. Despite playing an additional game in the first two rounds compared to last year, LA looked like they had plenty of gas in the tank during Games 6 and 7 against Anahei. If LA loses, it won't be because of fatigue.
How worried are you about the fast turnaround for the start of this series?
Somewhat. I'm very concerned about Game 1; I think the gameplan is to get a few early goals and hang on for dear life when the Kings start slowing down and the Blackhawks get their legs going. Two days off after Game 1 should make the quick turnaround less of a factor, and two days off after Game 2 is just a luxury.
The Kings have had some health issues on the backed end with Willie Mitchell and Robin Regehr both missing some time. What is the status of the defensive core, and who has been stepping up to fill in the holes?
We've heard nothing about Robyn Regehr, so he'll likely be out for the series; Willie Mitchell is skating again and has a good chance of making his return. There's an argument to be made that replacements Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz are basically carbon copies of those two, as they're both big, slow, and #gritty. They're also not very good. Having said that, both Greene and Schultz looked much better in the final games of the series, but they could easily be exposed.
That's why their partners need to step up. Slava Voynov has had a rough go of it during the postseason, and with the shakier partner (Schultz), he has a little bit of an excuse. Meanwhile, Alec Martinez has followed up an excellent regular season with an excellent playoffs, and will be counted on to make his shifts with Greene productive ones. The first pair of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin is intact, and capable of dominating a game; they've been given additional responsibility with Mitchell and Regehr out.
Jonathan Quick has had an up and down run in the playoffs, and his GAA and save% are much higher than we are used to seeing. Is this something you are concerned about or does that have more to do with the injuries on defense?
We're sort of known as the Jonathan Quick haters in the Los Angeles Kings blogosphere. ("Haters" means that most of us see him as an above-average goaltender and not the best goaltender in the league.) But there's been no arguing against his tremendous playoff performances in 2012 and 2013. This year, he's mixed in brutal games with great ones, and his .914 save percentage is almost identical to his season average of .915. .915 will probably not be good enough to beat Chicago, and although the defense can be blamed for a number of his goals against, I think improving that figure is on Quick himself.
Finally, are you as excited to watch Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews go head to head as I am?
Yup. Kopitar appeared to be slowed down by a nagging injury last June; however, after watching him outplay Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf, the Blackhawks have to face him at the top of his game this season. Toews still carries the bigger reputation and might beat him out in the Selke voting this year (which is an argument for another day), but Kopitar can prove that he is every bit as good as Toews is with a good showing. They'll probably match up against one another. And it's going to be amazing.