Chicago Blackhawks (8) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (1)
NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals
Game 1: Tuesday, April 11, 9:30 p.m. CDT
Special teams (Power play, penalty kill)
Vegas 22.0% (Ninth), Chicago 82.1% (Ninth)
Chicago 15.2% (28th), Vegas 76.6% (27th)
Shots for, Shots against
Vegas 32.3 (Seventh), 26.3 (Third)
Chicago 30.5 (13th), 34.3 (21st)
Goals for, Goals against
Vegas 224 (10th), 209 (14th)
Chicago 208 (19th), 214 (16th)
Vegas 50.0% (16th)
Chicago 49.9% (17th)
Average height, weight, age
Vegas 6-foot-2, 203.5 pounds, 27.5
Chicago 6-foot-1, 191.5 pounds, 25.4
Vegas Golden Knights
Max Pacioretty — William Karlsson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — Paul Stastny — Reilly Smith
Nick Cousins — Alex Tuch — Nicolas Roy
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Brandon Saad — Jonathan Toews — Dominik Kubalik
Alex DeBrincat — Kirby Dach — Patrick Kane
Alexander Nylander — Dylan Strome — Drake Caggiula
Matthew Highmore — Ryan Carpenter — David Kampf
As it goes with a No. 8 seed, the Blackhawks would appear to have their work cut out for them in their first round playoff matchup against the No. 1 seed Golden Knights.
Fresh off a “play-in” upset of Edmonton—where the only people who picked the Hawks would pick them against the ‘83 Oilers (or really “anyone”)—the Blackhawks can certainly make the ol’ “anything can happen” argument.
And, they could be right.
However, the Knights are not the Oilers. Not just in the composition of their team, but also in that they just performed strongly in the round robins against the best competition in the West. But, let’s look at why some hope might be justified for the Hawks.
Above all, their first line is as hot and as potent as any in hockey. Jonathan Toews is playing again like THE Jonathan Toews, same for Brandon Saad, and Dominik Kubalik is a quick-strike lethal weapon. I doubt the Knights will stop this line, and as the saying goes, their best hope is to contain them.
The Hawk defense is also playing pretty well. Not perfectly, but well enough to get past Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Fortunately for the Hawks, no one else on Edmonton posed much of a threat.
Compounding that relative positive is…another relative positive. For the first three games of the Edmonton series, Corey Crawford appeared to be, at best, finding his game. In the decisive Game 4, he was once again “Corey Crawford.” A lot of Hawk fans are counting on, or assuming, they will see “Game 4 Crawford” throughout the Vegas series, and not “first three games Crawford.” We shall see.
Because, again, the Knights are not the Oilers.
As we all know, Vegas went to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season two years ago. They do not really have what you would call a lot of (or any) household names. But, they are built to win in the playoffs, and, in that regard, more so than the Hawks.
Vegas has a lot of players who can both put the puck in the net and defend. They are big, but they can play however you want. Add to that, their goaltending is, if not better than the Hawks’, certainly deeper with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. The Hawks likely will not get a “bye” in Game 1 due to a Mike Smith meltdown—and the likes of Mikko Koskinen to decode the rest of the way.
Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer has a true luxury in picking between the hotter hand of two top NHL goaltenders. Another luxury is adding top scorer Max Pacioretty into a lineup that did not have much difficulty scoring in the round robin.
The Hawks’ play-in round featured two teams with plenty of flaws. You can argue the Hawks won because they outworked the Oilers and thereby overcame their flaws, where Edmonton seemed to never quite show up, exaggerating their own.
Chicago probably will not be so lucky with Vegas, who both showed up and prevailed in the round robins—and have shown in the recent past they know how to win in the playoffs.
In this matchup, the special teams look stunningly even, but the numbers suggest the Knights are a better five-on-five team than Chicago, which they are, and that matters significantly in the playoffs, where penalties generally get called less and overtime is five-on-five, with no three-on-three or shootout.
Sure, there is a compelling Crawford vs. Lehner subtext. I am going to assume (if Lehner and not Fleury starts for Vegas) both players will give it all they have. And with that in mind, the series will be won or lost between the goal lines. But, here is another very compelling stat: Vegas is 8–1 since 2017 against Chicago.
Keys to victory
Keep rolling. Vegas looked very strong in the round robins. They have the scoring, depth, goaltending and physicality to go deep in the playoffs.
Stop Vegas from continuing its roll. Winning Game 1 would not only be a minor upset for the Hawks, but it might also start to get inside the Golden Knights’ heads. Vegas has to have a fairly high confidence level coming in against a Chicago team they have dominated recently. The Hawks’ best hope may be to damage that confidence early in the series.
When you look at all the variables, both teams’ depth (or lack thereof), size and recent playoff success, it is really hard to objectively pick the Hawks in this series. So, we are not going to.
Vegas in six games.