To say that last season's Western Final was an emotional rollercoaster would be the understatement of the year. But the epic 2013 rematch between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks was just that: epic. After the Hawks won a hostile Game 1, the Kings took the next three to put the defending champs on the ropes. But Chicago won Game 5 in double-overtime and scored two goals late the next game to force a Game 7. After a back-and-forth affair, the decider went into overtime where Alec Martinez's point shot won Los Angeles the series and eliminated the defending champs. But that was then, and this is now.
If fans in Los Angeles thought the Chicago Blackhawks were tough last year, they should wait to get a load of them this season. While they did say goodbye to Brandon Bollig, the Hawks said hello to star center Brad Richards, who was bought out of his nine-year, $60-million deal by the New York Rangers following their Stanley Cup Final loss in June to none other than the Los Angeles Kings. But while his time on Broadway was deemed by some as a disappointment, Brad Richards signed just a one-year deal with Chicago at a considerable discount. With that, the 34-year-old won't have any time to spare. His time to shine will be right now, but we'll have to see how the veteran fares as the No. 2 center on Chicago's already-daunting offense which includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. It certainly doesn't hurt that Brad Richards brings 20 goals and 31 assists to his new team.
At 3.18 goals per game, the Blackhawks finished second overall in said category last season. But allowing just 2.05 goals per game, the Kings finished atop the league in said category. Something's got to give and for the Los Angeles Kings, they will at least hope to garner some regular-season momentum against their rivals from Chi-Town as they lost both of their meetings last season. But let's be honest: after 2013 and especially 2014, when it comes to these two teams, fans and experts alike only care about the playoffs.
While it may seem unfair to the other teams in the conference, there is no reason to expect any other teams but these two in the Western Final in 2015. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
In addition to Brad Richards, the Hawks have signed Swedish up-and-comer Dennis Rasmussen. Last season in Vaxjo of the Swedish league, the 24-year-old scored 16 goals and added 24 assists. Whether the centerman can translate that success to the NHL will remain to be seen, but the Kings should keep an eye out anyway.
Former King Michal Handzus is in the final year of his contract, so look for him to step up his game against his former team. As for Toews and Kane, they each signed massive contract extensions this summer, so we'll see if that affects their respective games this season. I'm guessing it won't but you never know.
While they have plenty of hard feelings for their divisional rivals, you can put the Chicago Blackhawks right up there on the radar of the Los Angeles Kings. While their Stanley Cup win in 2012 was very special, their ultimate win this past year was extra significant because en route to the Cup, the Kings had to eliminate the champions and, while it was no picnic, they did it. And this season, they want to repeat history.
But while a third-straight playoff meeting is undetermined, the Kings and Hawks will definitely meet during the regular season. Three times to be exact beginning on Saturday, November 29 at Staples Center. So, circle your calendars. It's going to be a classic.