PREVIEW: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, Game 1 - Aug. 1, 2020
Chicago, Edmonton open best-of-five Qualifying Round matchup at 2 p.m. CT on NBCby Carter Baum @CarterBaum / Blackhawks.com
TIME: 2 p.m. CT
TV: NBC | RADIO: WGN 720-AM / WRTO-AM 1200 | STREAM: NHL.TV & MyTeamsApp
Jeremy Colliton perhaps said it best on Friday evening while describing the anticipation of his team: "Let's get going."
Going the Blackhawks will be, some 143 days after they last took the ice at the United Center on March 11. Saturday afternoon, they embark on postseason play in an expanded 24-team field as part of the NHL's Return to Play Plan. Chicago, six points out of a Wild Card slot with 12 games to play when the season went on hiatus, has new life in a best-of-five series against the Edmonton Oilers that gets underway with Game 1 at 2 p.m. CT from Rogers Place in Edmonton, the league's Western Conference hub city.
In three meetings this season, the Blackhawks posted a 2-1-0 record against the Oilers, with Patrick Kane (2G, 2A) leading Chicago in scoring with four points. Jonathan Toews (2G, 1A), Brandon Saad (2G, 1A) and Adam Boqvist each had three points apiece. Corey Crawford was between the pipes for both wins, posting a 2.01 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage against Edmonton.
The Blackhawks and Oilers have met four times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Oilers winning three of those series. The two teams last met in the 1992 Conference Finals where Chicago won the series, 4-0. They also met in the Western Conference Finals in 1983 (EDM, 4-0), 1985 (EDM, 4-2) and 1990 (EDM, 4-2).
BETWEEN THE PIPES
While Colliton would not disclose his starting goaltender on Friday, all signs point to Corey Crawford getting the nod in goal one week to the day since he returned to the ice after recovering for COVID-19.
"You guys know, it's playoff time here," is all Colliton would say Friday. "We're only focused on winning."
"Not really," Crawford said Thursday when asked if he had any doubts about his ability to start in Game 1. "Felt good in practice again today (Thursday), so I should be ready to go unless something crazy happens last minute. I should be alright."
Video: Crawford on Readiness for Game 1
Based on Wednesday's exhibition against St. Louis, here are the projected line combinations for the Blackhawks in Game 1:
Kubalik - Toews - Saad
Nylander - Strome - Kane
DeBrincat - Dach - Caggiula
Highmore - Kampf - Carpenter
Keith - Boqvist
de Haan - Murphy
Maatta - Koekkoek
OUT OF THE GATE
In an abbreviated, best-of-five series, getting off on the right foot in Game 1 is pivotal.
"You don't have much time to ease into it," Colliton said last week before the team departed Chicago. "In a best-of-seven, every game is life-or-death, but you do see teams come back. It's really difficult in a five-game series. So that first game, you've got to be ready … We do have some guys who have experience in shorter series and we've got to be prepared for that urgency."
Saturday marks the first time that the NHL will contest a best-of-five elimination series since the 1986 playoffs and, according to NHL.com's Dan Rosen, of the 56 best-of-five series played during the 1980s, the winner of Game 1 went on to advance 49 times -- a whopping 87.5 percent of the time.
Video: Inside the bubble with Koekkoek
THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
While the Blackhawks roster has a combined 15 Stanley Cup rings, the players who have actually played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are in the minority on the youngest roster in the 2020 postseason, outnumbered 20-11. In fact, nine of the 18 skaters in the projected lineup for Game 1 would be making their playoff debuts on Saturday afternoon.
"Obviously that's good for any team to have those guys that have been through it and can try and teach the younger guys a little bit," said Crawford, one of the multi-Cup veterans. "At the same time, it's nice to have some fresh legs and some guys that are flying around and are really excited about their first chance at playoff hockey. It's a nice little mix and our young guys have just been getting better and better all year. Looks like we're ready to go and it'll be interesting to see how it starts out."
"Definitely," said Ryan Carpenter when asked if his team has the right pieces to string together a surprising run like he and the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2018. "I think we have a veterans that have won before, guys that have been in these kind of games and young guys with fresh legs and a lot of skill and a lot of talent. … Kind of really feels like of all the playoffs, this is really anyone's game and being the bottom seed, we have a chip on our shoulder. We're going to come out here, work hard, focus on our game and give ourselves the best chance."
It's also the first playoff game for the head man behind the bench, who said this week that he, along with the playoff rookies, will undoubtedly feel the nerves before puck drop on Saturday.
"Any big game you get nervous before. It's how you know you're alive," Colliton said. "You want to have that feeling where you're excited about the opportunity, but also you want to do well and you want to prepare and when the puck drops, you want to compete. You welcome that feeling and I expect we'll all have it."
Video: Colliton ahead of Game 1
Patrick Kane seemingly always shows up when the game is on the line. But he also always shows up against the Oilers.
"I think I've always liked playing in Canada and Western Canada," he said.
In 43 career games against Edmonton, No. 88 has scored 56 points (18G, 38A). He has logged more points against only two teams in his NHL career: St. Louis (64) and Nashville (61), albeit with 20 more games played against each.
Among non-division foes, he's scored more points against no other team. Against Western Conference opponents, his 1.30 points per game against Edmonton reigns supreme.
"I don't know, sometimes you just have success against those teams and you have a good feeling, so hopefully I can continue here in the play-in round."
Video: Carpenter on line matchups vs EDM
The Blackhawks know they stand a formidable offensive threat on the other side of the ice, as well.
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid finished the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in NHL scoring, combining for 207 points in 135 games.
"Those are pretty elite players and I don't know if you're ever fully going to shut them down," Colliton said of trying to stop the high-scoring duo. "You're just trying to limit their opportunities, force them to play without the puck as much as possible, keep them off the power play, all those things. If we give them three power plays in the first period, they're going to gain a lot of confidence from that, they're going to get comfortable in the game and they have a tremendous power play … We want to force them to defend. We want to control the puck, force them to play D-zone, make them come 200 feet to beat us."
Even more daunting is the fact that Draisaitl and McDavid often don't play together on the same line at even strength, meaning when one leaves the ice, the other usually steps on. With the Oilers designated the home team for Games 1 and 2, Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett will have the advantage of choosing what Blackhawks line he wants to deploy each against, meaning all four Chicago lines have to be ready to defend two of the game's most prolific forwards.
"No brainer, Edmonton is one of the fastest teams in the league," Carpenter added. "I think neutralizing their speed (is key). I think we can play fast too, I think we have some speed up front. We can play fast as a team as well. One of the ways you neutralize that is making them play a 200-foot game. They're really quick off the transition. They score a lot of goals off the rush. If there's a play to be made at the blue line, make it, but if they have numbers, just making a smart play and making them go 200 feet."