By Sidney Brown (@sidkid80)
Starting Saturday, history will be made as the first 24-team tournament for the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin in two of Canada’s best hockey towns: Toronto and Edmonton.
One of America’s best hockey towns, Chicago, got an unexpected boost into the postseason due to the unprecedented playoff plan laid out by commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL’s higher-ups in the name of concluding a season stopped short by the COVID-19 pandemic. In any other year, a No. 12 seed wouldn’t extend a season but as the 12th seed this year, the Chicago Blackhawks will face the hosting and high-powered No. 5 seeded Edmonton Oilers in a best of five qualifying round series with Game 1 taking place on re-opening day (2 pm CT, NBC).
The road for both teams dating back to the start of the 2019-20 season couldn’t have been any different — the Oilers ran off to a 8-2-1 start while the Hawks struggled with a 3-6-3 mark, but the two teams played similarly up to March’s sudden stop at the brink of the post-season.
Edmonton went 29-23-8 following their first 11 games while Chicago bounced back from its start with a 29-24-5 mark. A major aspect of the improving play from both teams in this series is consistent offense, so this stands a chance to be one of the more entertaining opening round series. The Men in Red took two out of three games from Edmonton this season, so Chicago’s confidence should be high, but the Oilers should be ready to respond at a moment’s notice if they are put in a bad spot.
Let’s take a look at some key players from both squads who stepped up and had huge years.
Hawks (Regular Season Stats)
Patrick Kane (33 Goals, 51 Assists)
Jonathan Toews (18 G, 42 A)
Dominik Kubalik (30 G, 16 A)
Alex DeBrincat (18 G, 27 A)
Brandon Saad (21 G, 12 A)
Dylan Strome (12 G, 26 A)
Adam Boqvist (4 G, 9 A)
Duncan Keith (3 G, 24 A)
Connor Murphy (3 G, 14 A)
Goalie: Corey Crawford (16-20-3 Record, 2.77 Goals Against, .917 Save %, 1 shutout)
Oilers (Regular Season Stats)
Connor McDavid (34 G, 63 A)
Leon Draisaitl (43 G, 67 A)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (22 G, 39 A)
James Neal (19 G, 12 A)
Kailer Yamamoto (11 G, 15 A)
Alex Chiasson (11 G, 13 A)
Ethan Bear (5 G, 16 A)
Oscar Klefbom (5 G, 29 A)
Goalies: Mike Smith (19-12-6 Record, 2.95 GAA, .902 SV%, 1 shutout)
Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3 Record, 2.75 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 shutout)
Now, a closer look at how these key players fared against each other in the three games Chicago and Edmonton played in the regular season.
Hawks vs. Oilers This Season
- Kane (2 G, 2 A)
- Toews (2 G, A)
- Kubalik (A)
- DeBrincat (2 G)
- Saad (2 G, A)
- Strome (2 A)
- Keith (A)
- Crawford (2-0 Record, 2.01 GAA, .923 SV%)
Oilers vs. Hawks This Season
- McDavid (No Points)
- Draisaitl (G, 6 A)
- Nugent-Hopkins (2 G, 2 A)
- Neal (G)
- Chiasson (A)
- Yamamoto (3 G)
- Smith (1-2 Record, 3.56 GAA, .906 SV%)
Potential Unsung Heroes
- Alex DeBrincat — 1st playoff appearance
- Dominik Kubalik — Rookie standout in 1st playoff appearance
- Brandon Saad — Needs to be strong in front of net
- Adam Boqvist — Rookie defenseman in first playoff appearance
Expect this series to come down to special teams (power play and penalty kill) and strong team defense. The Hawks will have to stay out of the penalty box because of they’ve had a particular lack of success in their penalty kill the last couple of years and Edmonton’s offense is built to score on man advantages.
In the playoffs, if you do not have a strong goaltender, you have no shot. Corey Crawford — a proven winner in the past with two Stanley Cups on his resume — must rise to the occasion in net and perhaps maybe steal a game or two to give his team a fighter’s chance. Particularly, if Chicago can steal Game 1, they could be in the driver’s seat to take this series.
Should Edmonton storm out to a 2-0 series lead, it would be an uphill battle that this group of young Hawks players may not be ready for. With all that said, I expect something more in the middle: a tough series for both sides that ultimately tips in the more playoff-experienced Hawks’ favor. Chicago in five.
Sidney Brown covers the Chicago Blackhawks for WARR