Outlook: #1 Golden Knights vs. #8 Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are in. They bounced the host city Edmonton Oilers from their Qualifying Round matchup this past week in four games, winning the series 3-1. Now they are welcomed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017, squaring off against the #1 seed Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights enter this series after going a perfect 3-0 in their Round Robin matchups against the other top three seeds in the Western Conference. They defeated the now #3 Dallas Stars 5-3 last Monday, the #4 St. Louis Blued 6-4 last Thursday, and finally the #2 Colorado Avalanche this past weekend 4-3 in OT.
Keys to the Series for Vegas: The ability to take advantage on the power play. Out of the 31 teams in the 2019-2020 regular season, the Blackhawks came in at #9 during the regular season in terms of power play goals/game (37), and this was considered a strength for Chicago. The postseason however has been a much more telling story of where this team is right now. The Blackhawks are tied with the Winnipeg Jets at #23 for the most power play goals allowed (5) in postseason play this year, as Chicago allowed the Oilers to score one-third (5 out of 15) of their goals in the series with a one-man advantage. This is something Coach Colliton and Chicago’s special teams are going to need to improve if they want to stay alive in this series.
Keys to the Series for Chicago: Get going early offensively, finish strong defensively, limit penalties. The Golden Knights score 15 goals in three games. 9 of those goals (60%) came in the third period or later, with one being the OT winning goal over Colorado. Being able to score early is going to be an important aspect of the Blackhawks strategy. Luckily for them, 12 of their 16 goals (75%) have come in the first two periods in postseason play this year. These are the numbers Chicago will need to put up so that they can run clock in the third period, and keep the puck away from Vegas. This strategy seemed to work for Chicago in Game 4 of the Oilers series, as they were able to hold the Oilers scoreless for the remaining 11+ minutes of gameplay following what would be the winning goal from Dominik Kubalik at the 11:30 minute mark.
Finally, the penalties need to be put in check. Chicago went to the box fifteen times in their four game series with the Oilers, while the Golden Knights’ combined opponents committed 11 total penalties. The less opportunities the Hawks give the Golden Knights, the closer they will be able to keep these games.
Players to Watch:
- Vegas Offense: Max Pacioretty: Pacioretty had been sidelined for the Golden Knights’ first three postseason games, but is expected to be back for this series with Chicago. Pacioretty led Vegas in points with 66 points during the regular season.
- Vegas Defense: Robin Lehner: The former Blackhawk was traded to Vegas via a three-team deal this past February which netted Malcom Subban in return for Chicago. Since the trade, Lehner appeared in only three regular season games, and two postseason games for the Golden Knights. In these two postseason games, Lehner allowed 6 goals, and has a .903 SV%.
- Chicago Offense: As tempted as I am to say Jonathan Toews, who leads both teams in points with 7 (4 goals, 3 assists), I’m going to say Patrick Kane is the player to watch here. This postseason, Kane has 4 points, but only 1 goal to show for it. In recent memory, Patrick Kane has had plenty of playoff hero performances for the Blackhawks, and fans have yet to see that in 2020. Kane is due for a great series, and I strongly believe he’s going to get his chance to in this series.
- Chicago Defense: Who else but Corey Crawford. Perhaps one of the greatest, if not overall best, goalie in Chicago Blackhawks history, Corey Crawford is going to be the veteran this Blackhawks team needs to have a great series if they want to move on. While Crawford has allowed 15 goals in four games, it is his Game 4 of the Oilers series that fans and analysts should pay attention to. Crawford finished Game 4 with 43 saves, and 20 of them came in the third period alone. With how well Vegas has played late in these games, Crawford is going to need be able to post similar numbers if he is to keep Chicago’s hopes of advancing alive. This pressure can also be relieved if the Blackhawks can spend less time in their own zone.
Who Comes Out of This?
I believe the Blackhawks are well tested and in a better position to succeed in this series than they were their last. Vegas does not have the league leading fast scoring weapons Edmonton featured in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they make up for it in overall better team effort and depth.
Jeremy Colliton spoke about the upcoming matchup, and told Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun Times, “They’re an excellent team [that] played really well, especially as the year has gone on. Stingy defensively, but they’ve created a lot going the other way, too. We know we’re going to have to raise our level… It was the case last series, too, that we needed everyone going to give ourselves a chance. It’s going to be more of the same. They have a lot of depth, and we need the full group every night [to be] ready for puck drop. If we do that, we have a chance to compete. But we need everyone going.”
I expect this Blackhawks team to do just that. They’ve already proven the “haters” wrong. They’ve already defeated a high-scoring team. I believe the Blackhawks have enough playmakers and have deep enough lines to keep up with Vegas nightly. My prediction for this series?
Blackhawks over Golden Knights in 7 games
Clear your schedule Blackhawks fans, it’s game day!
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) August 10, 2020
The #8 Chicago Blackhawks (0-0) will take on the #1 Vegas Golden Knights (0-0) tonight in Game 1 at 10:30pm EST at the Rogers Place as the “Away” team.