One win is all that separates the Blackhawks from a berth into the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Holding a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five Qualifying Round, Chicago can advance past the Edmonton Oilers with a win on Friday night and an elimination Game 4. Although the Blackhawks haven't played a five-game playoff series since 1986, they own an all-time record of 5-1 in Game 4 of a best-of-five series.
The Blackhawks completed a 4-3 come-from-behind victory in the third period to take a 2-1 series lead over the Oilers on Wednesday night. Olli Maatta and Jonathan Toews each tallied for Chicago in the opening frame, while a pair from Leon Draisaitl and a power-play tally from Connor McDavid gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead heading into the third. With 5:47 left in the game, Matthew Highmore recorded his first career playoff goal to tie the game at 3-3 before Toews tipped in a Connor Murphy shot for the game-winning goal with 1:16 left in the contest.
Following a Game 3 win with the same lines deployed throughout, you can expect head coach Jeremy Colliton to go back to the same forward lines and D pairings in Game 4:
For the first time in the series, a season is on the line. A Blackhawks win in Game 4 would end the high-flying Oilers' postseason, while punching an official ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for No. 12-seed Chicago.
That being said, Edmonton still possess the two highest-scoring players in the NHL and with their backs against the wall on Friday, it's not going to be a cake walk into the Round of 16. Look no further than Game 2, when the Oilers, fresh off a Game 1 embarrassment in the opener, stormed back with a McDavid hat trick in a 6-3 victory with the Hawks on their heels.
"It'll be their best game of the series, so we've got to prepare for that," Colliton said. "Hopefully we've learned a lesson from our approach in Game 2. It's not just going to happen. We've got to be ready from the start to do all the little details and have the work ethic away from the puck. We need it. We need everyone going to have a chance to win. If we do it, we have a good chance, but we're got to make sure we're preparing the right way."
"They had that killer instinct when they were down a game. Now they're on the brink of elimination," Brandon Saad said. "I think that was a good lesson for our team and we'll just have to match that intensity going into (Friday) knowing they're going to be a desperate team with their backs against the wall. We've got to have that same mentality."
On a roster littered with young talent, it'll once again come down to the playoff-tested veterans like Saad to keep the team even-keeled heading into Game 4, not letting the emotional high of Game 3 bring in a false sense of confidence.
"For us, it's just having that same mentality, not looking at it as we've got the lead in the series," Saad said. "Just like last game, putting in the hard work for 60 minutes, knowing you're going to have success doing the right things and sticking with it all game and that's what happened last game with doing the right thing. Just matching that intensity knowing that it's going to take a full 60 minutes of hard work. It's a do-or-die game looking at it like that for us as well."
For the first time on Wednesday night, Colliton possessed the final change and the opportunity to pick the matchup of his choice at each stoppage of play. On Friday, still designated as the home team, he'll be afforded the same luxury in the pivotal Game 4.
"It's just nice. You have a free look at who's coming and try to put guys in a good situation," he said. "I think overall, our whole group did a good job defending."
In fact, during much of Game 3 it was a committee effort to stop the Oilers top two lines. Chicago began the night putting the top line of Toews, Saad and Dominik Kubalik up against McDavid's line, while the fourth line of David Kampf, Ryan Carpenter and Highmore seemed to draw the tall task of stopping Draisaitl's line, thus allowing Kirby Dach, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat to operate against the Oilers' fourth line. As the game progressed, the Dach line was called into duty to match against the Draisaitl unit, often trading off those duties with the Toews line as the clubs' top six forwards worked to negate each other.
"McDavid and Draisaitl, they're (each) playing half the even-strength minutes almost," Colliton said of the difficulty in trying to game plan for both scorers. "It's going to need to be a full team effort to defend (on Friday). Certainly we're paying attention to who's on the ice, but it's too big a job for one group to do."
In the end, the defense-by-committee tactic largely worked, as McDavid registered just one shot on the night at even strength, while Draisaitl was limited to four at 5-on-5 play, three during the first period before matchup adjustments were made to minimize his threat at even strength. After his equalizer just four minutes into the second period, Draisaitl didn't register a 5-on-5 shot the rest of the evening.
"I think it helps any time you get the home-ice advantage or last change. You kind of can pick and choose your matchups," Saad said of the benefit. "That changes throughout a game, throughout a series and to be able to have that for the first time, I think it helps. It's a strategy the coach can use, using our depth and using our players when he wants to and it paid off in the end there."
With the Oilers' season on the line the crucial aspect of last move in the ongoing chess match could be a huge upper hand for Colliton and the Blackhawks looking to close out the series in Game 4.
With his 11th career playoff game-winning goal on Wednesday, Toews tied Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Kane for the most playoff game-winning goals in franchise history. The captain had his second multi-goal game of the series on Wednesday with his 43rd and 44th career playoff goals, giving him sole possession of sixth place in franchise history and just one behind Steve Larmer for fifth place all-time. Toews also skated in his 131st career playoff game on Wednesday, tying him with Denis Savard for second all-time in Blackhawks franchise playoff history.
AS THE CROW FLIES
Corey Crawford recorded his 50th career playoff win on Wednesday, making 25 saves in the 4-3 victory over Edmonton. He is the franchise leader in the category and became the 20th goaltender in NHL history with 50 career playoff wins. He ranks tied for third in playoff wins among active goaltenders with Tukka Rask.
Rookie forward Dach has four assists in the opening three games of the series, becoming the fifth teenager in NHL history to record four or more assists in his opening three playoff games. Only Dale Hawerchuk (6), Nathan MacKinnon (6), Jeff Friesen (4) and Sergei Samsonov (4) have accomplished the feat before.
The No. 3 overall pick from last summer's draft notched his first career playoff multi-point contest (2A) of his career on Monday in Game 2. Dach (19 years, 195 days) became just the second Blackhawk's player to record two assists in a playoff game before the age of 20, joining Eddie Olczyk (18 years, 248 days) who had two assists on April 21, 1985 vs. Minnesota. He is also second to Olczyk as the youngest players to record a playoff point in franchise history.