Along the Boards: Vegas wins series after 4–3 victory

  

Chicago stole Game Four from the Vegas Golden Knights after Corey Crawford showed why he is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, stopping 48 shots and giving Chicago one more game to extend the series. Tuesday night’s game would have a much different look if Crawford was only average behind a questionable effort in Chicago’s own end by his teammates.

Jeremy Colliton inserted forward John Quenneville into the lineup, sitting Alexander Nylander in the press box. Such a small move would usually not bring much fanfare, but Nylander is a trade acquisition by General Manager Stan Bowman that has not quite panned out, even after his “change of scenery” from Buffalo.

First period

The first few minutes of the contest did not generate much action other than Vegas getting extended zone time after a Brandon Saad turnover near his own blue line. Saad’s attempt to stickhandle his way into the Vegas zone, instead of dumping the puck to a corner, only to have his pocket picked which turned into a rush for forward William Carrier. Carrier made a nice drive to the net and found forward Ryan Reaves in front of the net with a nifty pass. Duncan Keith made a recovery and broke up the high-scoring chance in front of the net. Such a small detail like dumping the puck in instead of trying to make a play at the blue line nearly cost Chicago at the other end.

A few minutes later, Crawford stoned forward Reilly Smith in deep with a sprawling save. What appeared to be an early goal for the Golden Knights was turned aside. Luckily for the Hawks, Crawford carried over his excellent play from Sunday night into Tuesday’s game since midway through the first period, Chicago’s defense was non-existent at best.

Chicago caught what you can only say was a “huge” break when Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner gave up a juicy rebound after a soft backhand shot by Dominik Kubalik that resulted in Jonathan Toews pounding home the rebound for a 1–0 Blackhawk advantage. The goal, the Chicago captain’s fifth goal of the playoffs, was assisted by Kubalik and Brandon Saad. Kubalik did an excellent job of getting the puck to the net, rewarding Toews for getting to the front of the net, a recipe for success in the playoffs.

Crawford kept Vegas off the scoreboard after a few grade-A chances, allowing Chicago to extend their lead to 2–0 after Alex DeBrincat found himself in front of the net by himself and tapped home a pass from Dylan Strome. Strome delayed just enough time to allow Lehner to slide out of position. The goal came after a spin-o-rama by Connor Murphy inside the blue line, reminiscent of Chicago great Denis Savard.

Vegas forward Max Pacioretty cut the Chicago lead in half at 2–1 after he buried a quick wrist shot into an empty net, as a shot from Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb was tipped by Toews on its way to the net, finding Pacioretty to the right of Crawford with nothing standing in front of him.

After being outplayed for the first half of the period, Chicago led on the scoreboard 2–1 while being outshot 14–10.

Second period

Within the first minute of the period, Vegas forward Mark Stone beat Crawford after a bad change by Chicago. Stone’s goal was an early backbreaker for Chicago, a team trying to hang onto some momentum from having the lead after one period of play. The goal tied the game 2–2. Keith made a poor decision at center ice allowing Vegas an odd-man rush into the Chicago zone.

At the 4:02 mark in the period, Patrick Kane found himself alone in front of Lehner after a Vegas turnover at the blue line, and beat the Vegas goalie five-hole after a nifty forehand-to-backhand move. Drake Caggiula assisted on the play, saucing the biscuit through the Vegas defense to a wide-open Kane. Kane’s second goal in the playoffs gave Chicago a 3–2 lead.

Vegas defenseman Alec Martinez scored his first goal of the playoffs—and first playoff goal since scoring the Stanley-Cup winning goal in 2014—at the 7:28 mark in the period. The goal came on the power play after Adam Boqvist was called for holding the stick of Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault. Midway through the affair the game was tied 3–3.

Third period

Early in the period, Vegas forward Alex Tuch tucked home a rebound under Crawford giving the designated home team the lead at 4–3. Tuch beat Boqvist to the outside and scored off his own rebound. Tuch’s fourth goal of the playoffs was assisted by Marchessault and defenseman Shea Theodore.

After falling behind, Chicago could only muster three shots on goal through 10 minutes of play in the period. Vegas clamped down on the Blackhawks, playing a smart, simple style of hockey. This type of game was remindful of when the Stanley Cup Blackhawks could turn a one-goal contest into a sure-win outcome.

Chicago’s season appeared over when Tuch appeared to have scored his second goal of the period. Tuch scored into another empty net while Crawford was interfered with by forward Nick Cousins in the crease. Following a Blackhawks challenge, the referees determined there was contact with Crawford, therefore disallowing the goal. With just over four minutes left in the game, Vegas clung to a one-goal lead.

With 1:14 left in regulation, Colliton pulled Crawford for the extra attacker. When Chicago was finally able to settle into the Vegas zone with 20 seconds left in the game, a few shots on net did not end up in the back of the net. After 60 minutes of play, Vegas held onto the 4–3 lead to claim a 4–1 victory in the first-round playoff series.

The taste of playoff hockey, during a season in which Chicago would not have qualified during a non-pandemic year, was a huge plus for the youngsters on the roster. Before the season’s stoppage of play, the Blackhawks were going to play out the final 12 games of the season and head home to golf. The change in playoff format saw Chicago defeat Edmonton was a pleasant surprise for the youngest team in the 2020 NHL postseason before ultimately succumbing to Vegas. However, the experience did come with the price of the possible first overall pick, or at the least, a higher draft pick in the NHL Entry Draft, as the Blackhawks will be selecting either 16th or 17th instead of in the top 10. Time will tell which would have been better.

Center Ice Forums Along the Boards: Vegas wins series after 4–3 victory

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