By Sidney Brown (@sidkid80)
Ain’t it sweet! It’s on to the Round of 16 for the Chicago Blackhawks as the Stanley Cup Playoffs officially begins in the respective bubbles up in Edmonton and Toronto. The Men in Red have crashed the party by upsetting the host Oilers 3-1 in the qualifying round and are gearing up for Game 1 against Las Vegas, which takes place this evening.
So, how did this upset take place? One, the Hawks took good advantage of the Oilers’ misfortunes, scoring four power play goals (22.2 percent) over the course of the four games. Second, they shut down Edmonton’s supporting cast outside of its superstar pair of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Chicago maintained a fast pace that was risky but ultimately favored the Hawks, who outscored the Oilers 16-15, and although he wasn’t at his best for the entirety of the series, goalie Corey Crawford came up huge with key saves during the final period of Game 4 to clinch the series. Here’s a closer look at some of the key players that stepped up to clinch the series upset for the Hawks:
Dominik Kubalik – 3 goals, 3 assists
Patrick Kane – G, 3A
Jonathan Toews – 4G, 3A
Brandon Sadd – 2G, A
Matthew Highmore – 2G, A
Chicago’s blue liners also chipped in on the scoresheets, ranging from contributions from a ageless veteran to surprising no name role players
Duncan Keith – 4A
Slater Koekkoek – G, 2A
Olli Maatta – 2G, 2A
Connor Murphy – 2A
Corey Crawford – 3-1 record, 3.75 goals against, .891 Save %
Opening the Stanley Cup playoffs proper against the top-seeded Golden Knights will be a dramatic turnaround for the Hawks in terms of style of play. Vegas hasn’t relied on any wunderkind scorers for their success — instead they have a wide, balanced roster of scorers and they pride themselves on their physical defense.
Las Vegas benefited from a mid-season turnaround to whom much of the credit goes to head coach Peter Deboer, who after a struggling start to the season replaced Gerard Gallant, who took the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.
Following the coaching change and acquiring former Hawks goalie Robin Lehner at the trade deadline, Vegas play improved to the point where it earned a top four seed in the Western Conference and a spot in the Round Robin contests in Edmonton, winning games against each of the best of the West (St. Louis, Dallas and Colorado) and earning a shot at the lowest seed coming out of the qualifying round.
Let’s take a look at the key stars that have shined brightest for Vegas since returning to the ice:
Vegas Stats (Round Robin)
Mark Stone – 2G, 3A
Alex Tuch – 3G
Reilly Smith – 2A
William Karlsson – G, 2A
Jonathan Marchessault – 2G
Shea Theodore – 2G, 2A
Nate Schmidt – G, 2A
Robin Lehner – 2-0 Record, 2.89 GAA, .903 SV%
Lehner and Crawford will finally get to see who is the better man as this series will likely come down to who out-plays who with the next important comparison coming between power play units.
Can the Hawks stay out of the penalty box? Will Corey Crawford steal a game or two in net? Will Robin Lehner figure out his former mates? And will the Hawks defensemen rise to the occasion and shut-down the Golden Knights’ top scorers?
Expect this to be a competitive and entertaining series but Hawks fans aren’t likely to get the result they want. The experience and balance of the Golden Knights will outlast the young gun Hawks because of their coaching and overall talent.
My prediction: Golden Knights in six.
Sidney Brown covers the Chicago Blackhawks for WARR