Along the boards: Blackhawks take care of Oilers in Game 1


The Blackhawks entered Saturday’s action poised to steal a game early against the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL Play-In Best-of-5 series. Aside from Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues, this was Chicago’s first meaningful game since March 11 when NHL action was paused due to COVID-19. 

The Blackhawks needed a great game in Game 1 to have any chance against the Edmonton Oilers. Fans sat in anticipation as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews looked to take down two of the league’s best in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid

Despite the Blackhawks understanding the importance of this game, they proceeded to take a terrible penalty in the game’s first minute and a half. A too many men penalty sent the Oilers top powerplay unit into action. As many probably expected, Connor McDavid tallied from the left wing side of the ice to give the home team the early 1–0 lead. 

After about six minutes of play, the Hawks’ second line had a golden opportunity. After Kane was denied on a point blank chance following an Oscar Klefbom turnover, Mike Smith mishandled the puck behind the net and right to Dylan Strome. Strome banked the puck off of Smith as he returned to his crease and tied the game for the visitors. 

Not too long after Strome tallied the tying mark, he preceded to draw a penalty and send the Hawks to the power play. Edmonton pushed Patrick Kane into the right wing corner, knowing he was the focal point of the power play. However, the puck squeaked out of the corner and onto the stick of Dominik Kubalik, who found Jonathan Toews wide open on a backhand pass. Toews finished top shelf against Smith and gave the Hawks the lead. 

In what seemed to be a momentum shift, the Blackhawks struck again. This time, a point shot from Olli Maatta was tipped in front of Smith by Brandon Saad. The puck changed direction so much that it would have been difficult to stop. The tally gave the Blackhawks an early two goal lead against the favored Oilers.

Hockey players always say momentum is a real thing. Well, the momentum was in favor of the Blackhawks because they were not stopping. The top line forechecked hard against the McDavid line and Brandon Saad pressured McDavid into a turnover. Kubalik found the puck and dished it to the captain who buried his second (yes, second) goal of the game and gave the Hawks a 4–1 lead early in this game.

The Blackhawks carried the momentum through the whole entire opening frame. The Oilers looked asleep, and Chicago was trying to put their foot on Edmonton’s hypothetical throats in this game. They had to keep it up in order to hold on though, as the Oilers still have so much fire power. 

The teams opened the second period and Edmonton found some sense of urgency. About four minutes into the period, the Oilers were able to get a goal back on the power play. Leon Draisaitl tapped home a McDavid pass after some chaos around the blue paint. Corey Crawford was a little slow to get back to his crease, leaving an open net. 

However, the Blackhawks found a way to get one back. After a Darnell Nurse penalty, Duncan Keith tee’d up Domink Kubalik for a beautiful one-timer on the right wing boards. Kubalik finished off the feed for his first goal of the day and his fourth point of the game to regain the Blackhawks’ three-goal lead. Mike Smith subsequently was pulled in favor of Mikko Koskinen after Kubalik’s one-timer.

After plenty of back and forth action, the Blackhawks added to their already impressive lead. On the power play, yet again, Dominik Kubalik tipped a Keith shot from the point past Koskinen with about two minutes and change left in the period. The goal was Kubalik’s second goal and fifth point of the day.

As action entered the third, both teams were quiet on the score sheet. With three and a half minutes remaining, the Oilers pulled Koskinen in favor of the extra attacker. The strategy worked twice for Edmonton in the span of about 35 seconds, as James Neal hammered home a puck in a scrum in front of Crawford, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallied on a tip of a point shot. 

Despite Patrick Kane’s empty-net goal being overturned, the Blackhawks held on to win 6–4 over the favored Oilers. It was quite a game from the #12 seed Blackhawks, and the game certainly gave fans hope of what is to come.

Around the boards

It was nice seeing the Blackhawks enact some revenge on Mike Smith, who is almost 100% responsible for eliminating Chicago from the playoffs back in 2012. Today, the Blackhawks got Smith for five goals, and fans loved seeing him leave the game after the Kubalik one-timer on the power play. 

The Oilers did not look fast today; multiple Blackhawks players, including Toews, Saad, and Kubalik, made Edmonton look slow. Much of that was due to the Oilers not looking ready to play. However, instead of the Blackhawks playing down to Edmonton’s level today, they took their energy through the roof and were able to keep the Oilers in a bad situation for almost the entire game. 

Yeah, I felt that way too. I think most Blackhawks fans felt that way today after they brutally outplayed the Oilers. The key moving forward is for Chicago to keep that up. If they can sustain that level of offense, they could steal this series against Edmonton. If I’m one of the leaders on the team, I’m feeling good and letting guys feel confident, but reminding guys this is only game one, they need to win two more before they can truly experience real playoff hockey. 

The Blackhawks and Oilers will be back on NBCSN on Monday, August 3. The game is scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m. CDT.

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