Chicago took Game 1 in the highest-scoring opening game of any play-in series with a 6-4 win on Saturday afternoon.
Four unanswered goals to close out the first period from Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad and a pair from Jonathan Toews, plus a pair of second-period tallies from Dominik Kubalik led the way. Kubalik set an NHL Playoffs debut record with five points (2G, 3A) on the afternoon.
Corey Crawford stopped 25 of the 29 shots he faced, with three Oilers tallies on the power play and a fourth coming with an extra attacker on late.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Head coach Jeremy Colliton wouldn't confirm his lineup following morning skate in Edmonton, but Crawford is expected to once again start for the Blackhawks on Monday night.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, though, will turn to Mikko Koskinen to start Game 2. The 32-year-old netminder stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced in Game 1 after replacing starter Mike Smith at 6:32 of the second period following Kubalik's first goal.
"They're not the same goaltender, but there are some similarities," Colliton said of the opposing goalies. "Ultimately we've got to make sure we get people in front. That's how a lot of our goals are going to be scored in the playoffs here. Making sure that we have not just one, but another player on the way to the net getting those deflections and rebounds and then recovering pucks to sustain the zone time. There's no secret there as far as what we're trying to do."
"Both have great strengths and they're both great goalies, you see with their numbers this year," Strome said. "We did a good job with getting traffic on Smith (Saturday) and finding ways to get it past him. I'm not sure you can really fault him on many of the goals -- a couple backdoors and a couple tips and that one-timer by 'Kuby.' Those are pretty tough goals to stop for anyone in the whole league."
Koskinen appeared in 38 games for Edmonton during the regular season, posting a 2.75 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. His only time facing Chicago this year came in the final regular-season meeting on March 5, replacing Smith late in the second period of a 4-3 Blackhawks win. Koskinen stopped all 10 shots he faced in relief that night nearly five months ago.
With Drake Caggiula suspended for Game 2, it remains to be seen who takes his role on the third line with Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. More on that decision below.
Keith - Boqvist de Haan - Murphy Maatta - Koekkoek
The Blackhawks will be forced to make one lineup change ahead of Game 2 after Drake Caggiula received a one-game suspension for a hit to the head of Oilers' forward Tyler Ennis in the second period of the opening game.
"Feel bad for 'Jules,'" head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Sunday after the suspension was announced. "He's excited about this series playing his old team. Just kind of a bang-bang play. He went hard and he definitely wasn't trying to catch him in the head, but he did. Of course we wish we had Jules in the lineup but we won't."
"He's a 200-foot player and hits a lot of bodies and finds a way to get some chances and create some momentum for us," Strome said of Caggiula. "He's an important player. We have a lot of depth here, so hopefully it doesn't take too much wind out of our sails. He's a great player, so going to be tough without him for a game."
Colliton and the Chicago coaching staff have a few options to step in from their 31-man roster, though wouldn't tip their hand during pregame availability as to who would fill the role. The top two candidates appear to be Brandon Hagel and Dylan Sikura, each with a differing style of play.
The slightly more physical Hagel would be more a like-for-like replacement if the Blackhawks wanted to keep the same mix of skill and physicality on the third unit, alongside Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat. The 21-year-old made his long-awaited NHL debut on March 11 in the final game before the season was paused after earning several call-ups earlier in the year without seeing game action.
Sikura brings more experience and pure offensive skill to the lineup, having skated in 47 games over the last three seasons. A consistent leading scorer for Rockford in the AHL, his game hasn't fully translated to the NHL level yet, but did notch his first NHL goal and a pair of assists in nine outings this season.
Of course, the Blackhawks could turn to any of the other three forwards from their playoff roster, MacKenzie Entwistle, Philipp Kurashev or John Quenneville.
Edmonton's top-ranked power play coming into Game 1 wasted no time to get on the board, just 2:34 into the contest, and finished the afternoon converting three of its four chances.
"They've got some really good players and they've been dangerous all year," Colliton said of the Oilers power play. "We'll continue to work on that and make it a focus. A lot of it was just loose pucks around the net, didn't get a clear a couple times and typically those end up in the back of your net. We know we want to stay out of the box as much as we can."
"They got off to that good start on the power play with a too many men call," Strome added. "The biggest thing for us is just staying out of the box. We obviously see how lethal their power play is and how much damage it can do. Take penalties as needed to prevent a goal or save a goal."
STRENGTH AT EVEN STRENGTH
When the Oilers weren't on the man advantage, the Blackhawks dominated in Game 1. With five skaters and a goalie aside, Chicago outscored Edmonton, 3-0, while limiting the higher seed to just 20 shots on goal.
"I think we did a good job of getting the puck in, skating the puck in, establishing zone time and holding it down there," Colliton said. "We were able to break through and get some chances during those situations, but that also helps us defensively. (At) 5-on-5 I think we did a pretty good job."
Trailing 1-0 in the series, it's fully expected the Oilers will come out stronger in Game 2. They're not on the brink of elimination by any means, but only once in NHL history has a team come back from a 2-0 hole in a best-of-five series (all-time series record of 55-1). Edmonton can't afford to reach the brink two games in.
"For us, it was a little bit of a wake-up call," Oilers forward James Neal said on Sunday. "We kind of just dipped our toe in the water and weren't fully committed to how we need to play. We'll put that behind us, learn from it and be a lot better."
"We won one game, now it's in the past," Colliton said. "We had a meeting (Sunday) and it's all about Game 2 and understand the challenge that's ahead of us. They're an excellent team that's going to respond. I'm sure they've got a lot of confidence in that room that they have what it takes to win and they are going to be better on Monday, so we're going to need to improve, too. That's got to be the only thing we're thinking about."
With the league's top two scorers in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the offensive firepower is there for Edmonton to go toe-to-toe with the Blackhawks offensively. It'll need to be a full team effort once again from Chicago to continue to thwart them, especially in a pivotal Game 2.
"We know that they've got a good team with some very dangerous players in Draisaitl and McDavid especially," Duncan Keith said. "It's one game and at the end of the day there are definitely some things that we're happy about (from Game 1), but we're going to keep working on it and build off of it."
"I think we know anything can happen," Strome said. "They showed that at the end of the game with two quick goals and it got pretty of close there at the end with the goalie pulled."