Kubalik Shines, Blackhawks Claim Game 1
Dominik Kubalik was the star of the show Saturday afternoon in Edmonton as the #12 Blackhawks played visitor to the #5 Oilers. Coming into the return to play Stanley Cup Qualifying Round matchup, the Oilers held a 37-24-9 record before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to shut down at the beginning of March, while the Blackhawks entered with a 32-30-8 record. These records meant nothing when the puck dropped at the Rogers Center as the Blackhawks cruised to an easy 6-4 Game 1 win in which Kubalik recorded 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in his first “postseason” matchup with the Hawks. Kubalik, who is currently a finalist for the NHL rookie of the year award, became the first player in NHL history to record five points in his postseason debut.
Mike Morreale of NHL.com quoted Jonathan Toews in reference Kubalik as saying, “I think [Kubalik] has shown right from the get-go he’s really smart in finding open spots, slipping behind guys. He’s great at sending it at the net, and with the speed of the game nowadays, when he gets in those dangerous areas with how quick he gets the shot off, he’s going to put a lot of pucks home. I think he’s going to get better and better as we go along; you saw today he was more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer.”
The Oilers got things started with an early goal from captain Connor McDavid to take the lead, but then it was all Blackhawks after that. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews recorded two goals of his own in the first period, while Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad each netted a goal in order to allow the Blackhawks to secure a comfortable 4-1 lead at the end of the period. Leon Draisaitl would cut the lead to two with a wrist shot goal just minutes into the second period before Kubalik netted the next two goals for Chicago improving the lead to 6-2. Edmonton added goals from James Neal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the third period before the final horn sounded.
Despite the odds being heavily favored for the Oilers, as they are the host city playing in their own arena and featuring the 2019-2020 NHL regular season points leaders, Draisaitl & McDavid back-to-back, it was the Blackhawks who shined on offense. Chicago led the way with 42 SOG to Edmonton’s 29, and three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender Corey Crawford made 25 saves. On the Power Play, the Blackhawks went 3-for-6 while the Oilers were 3-for-4.
Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton spoke of the team’s energy, which Morreale writes, “We’ve shown some immaturity at times as far as getting away from what’s given us success and just continuing to play a hard, simple and direct game. It’s playoff time and momentum can change quickly, so you don’t want to give the other team hope they can get back into it.”
At the end of the day, the team records set five months ago back in March mean nothing now. The Blackhawks will rely on their experienced veterans and their new young core as they begin the quest for their fourth Stanley Cup in ten years.
The Blackhawks lead the series 1-0, and next take the ice against the Oilers on Monday night (8/3) at 10:30pm EST.