(12) Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8) at (5) Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9)
Game 1 3 PM, Saturday, August 1
Game 2 10:30 PM, Monday, August 3
Game 3 10:30 PM, Wednesday, August 5
Game 4 Friday, August 7 (if necessary)
Game 5 Saturday, August 8 (if necessary)
(All times Eastern)
Regular season stats
Edmonton power play 29.5% (1st) v. Chicago penalty kill 82.1% (t-8th)
Chicago power play 15.2% (28th) v. Edmonton Penalty kill 84.4% (2nd)
Chicago 49.9% (17th)
Edmonton 49.0% (23rd)
6’1”, 191.5 lbs, 25.4 years
6’2”, 197.3 lbs, 25.9 years
Dominik Kubalik – Jonathan Toews – Brandon Saad
Alex Nylander – Dylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat – Kirby Dach – Drake Caggiula
Matthew Highmore – Ryan Carpenter – David Kampf
Duncan Keith – Adam Boqvist
Calvin DeHaan – Connor Murphy
Slater Koekkoek – Olli Maatta
Corey Crawford/Malcolm Subban/Colin Delia
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Tyler Ennis – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Andreas Athanasiou – Riley Sheahan – Josh Archibald
James Neal – Jujhar Khaira – Alex Chiasson
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Kris Russell – Matt Benning
Mikko Koskinen/Mike Smith
This series will ride on the relative health and player status of the two teams— whether it’s quick, three game work for the Oilers, or if the Blackhawks can channel past mojo and make a four or five game contest of it.
On paper, the series tilts toward the Oilers, though that could be mitigated by the recent return to “health” of goaltender Corey Crawford. A healthy and dialed in Crawford gives the Blackhawks a chance in any series. However, in light of his absence from practices and injury history over the last two seasons, that Crawford is far from assured at this point. If Crawford plays, and plays very well in the Wednesday exhibition versus St. Louis, then consider this series a more even match than it was a week to ten days ago.
And you can argue that old stalwarts Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith also give the Hawks a chance every time they hit the ice. But the Chicago supporting cast in August 2020 pales in comparison to that of the Blackhawks last playoff series win in June 2015 (yes, it’s been that long). And that’s where this series will likely turn— in favor of the Oilers.
In any playoff series, it’s all about the matchups. And it’s usually about which team imposes itself physically on the other. Nearly across the board, the Oilers seem to be getting the better of the odds.
Special teams? A pretty clear advantage to Edmonton.
Aside from the fact that the Oilers are faster than the Blackhawks, they are also bigger. In particular, as playoff hockey tends to be much less “officiated”—and clutching, grabbing and grinding on one end or other is much more prevalent—the Oilers big, nasty defense corps, led by Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, and Oscar Klefbom, will have a huge advantage against a basically pretty soft and somewhat inexperienced Chicago forward group. While Alex Nylander, Dylan Sikura, and Kirby Dach have been at times dominant in no/low contact intra-team scrimmages, as they say, there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby.
The Oilers are going to target and try to intimidate these players from the first puck drop. Add Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat to the Oilers’ list as well. And don’t think of it so much as running around for big hits, but bodying younger, smaller Chicago forwards off of pucks, an elbow here, a cross check there, seeing how quickly the young Hawk forwards will start pulling up early, quitting on pucks, and otherwise daydreaming about golf season.
Playoff goals tend to be a lot more greasy than those in the regular season, and a pure perimeter team (which is what the Columbus Blue Jackets turned the heretofore “greatest team in recorded history,” the Tampa Bay Lightning, into last April in a four-game sweep) tends to fold like a tent in the postseason. Unless the Hawks can muster a lot of pushback, this is Edmonton’s game plan.
It’s not like these Oilers are the 1983 version of themselves either, but they are a team on the rise and with good reason. All Everything centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are essentially this decade’s Crosby and Malkin. This duo gives Oil head coach Dave Tippett the ability to roll two potent scoring lines or load up putting both of the superstars out at the same time. Consider this, McDavid and Draisaitl were on pace for 114 and 127 points respectively when the regular season ended in March. Sure you can argue: stop them and stop the Oilers. But beyond Toews, the Hawks don’t seem to have the horses down the middle to get that done.
Assume Toews will be out against McDavid or Draisaitl. But if Toews takes one, that means Dylan Strome or perhaps Kirby Dach or Ryan Carpenter must take the other: a massive mismatch up and down the ice. Dach may emerge over the next couple of years as a fine NHL player. But a recent stellar performance in no-contact team scrimmages does not mean “yeah, roll him out against McDavid, no problem.”
There was a time when Joel Quenneville could do the same with Kane and Toews, but this is 2020, Kane and Toews are both to varying degrees not quite what they were five to seven years ago, and Hawk head coach Jeremy Colliton is no Quenneville either.
Quite frankly, he has not proved he’s in Tippett’s league.
You almost feel sorry for Colliton in this series. Hell, with the slow slide to mediocrity the Hawk front office has facilitated for the last five years, you feel sorry for him all the time.
Regardless, he’s going to be highly challenged trying to matchup with the speed and size of the Oilers, and always in Edmonton’s building.
Does Chicago have any chance in this series?
Well, no one really knows how “healthy” Crawford is except the player himself and perhaps his doctor. And even then, with COVID-19, there is ample and growing evidence that even young, otherwise healthy patients can have mild symptoms followed by “negative” tests for several days—then suddenly fall off a cliff.
We do know Crawford is unlikely to be 100% dialed in after four months off and a week of practice. And then he is going to see a lot of rubber night in and night out. That’s if he even plays in game 1, or then past game 1. Remember, we were all told Brent Seabrook was going to play until we heard he couldn’t.
Everyone at Hawks camp keeps raving about the strides taken by 2019 #3 overall selection Kirby Dach, but if there’s one other Hawk X-factor in this series, it may be 2018 #8 overall selection Adam Boqvist.
Boqvist could literally go either way in this series, getting caught way too far up ice or out of position and end up with Michelin tracks all over him—or he could rise up to the promise of his exceptional mobility and offensive talent and really give the Oilers an unexpected problem. Or both. But more likely the former than the latter, because again, we’re lighting candles here.
Finally, if Chicago can surprise the Oil in Game 1, take two of the first three, and Crawford plays, it goes five and will be a nail-biter. But . . .
Oilers in 4 if Crawford plays. Oilers sweep if he doesn’t.