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3 Keys: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, Game 1 of Cup Qualifiers

Crawford in goal for Chicago; Edmonton counting on Draisaitl, McDavid

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

No. 12 Blackhawks vs. No. 5 Oilers

3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN

The Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers begin their Stanley Cup Qualifier series Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Western Conference. The series winner will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Corey Crawford will start in goal for Chicago, while Mike Smith will play for the Oilers.

Chicago, the visiting team in the first two games in the best-of-5 series, went 2-1-0 against Edmonton in the regular season.

There hasn't been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56).

Here are 3 keys to Game 1:

 

1. Goalie matchup 

Corey Crawford made 11 saves in 30:06 in Chicago's 4-0 exhibition win against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday after missing all but the final day of training camp following a positive test for COVID-19. He said Thursday he expects to start Game 1.

After missing 80 games the previous two season because of concussions, Crawford was 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 40 games (39 starts) this season. He started Chicago's final eight games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

 Smith and Mikko Koskinen shared the workload nearly evenly during the season. Smith was 19-12-6 with a 2.95 GAA and .902 save percentage in 39 games (37 starts), and Koskinen was 18-10-3 with a 2.75 GAA and .917 save percentage in 38 games (34 starts).

 

2. Containing McDavid, Draisaitl

The Blackhawks must contain Oilers centers Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who finished first and second in the NHL scoring race, to have any chance of winning. Draisaitl scored an NHL career-high 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games, winning the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer, and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. McDavid, Edmonton's captain, scored 97 points (34 goals, 63 points) in 64 games.

In three games against Chicago this seaon, Draisaitl scored seven points (one goal, six assists). McDavid was held without a point in two games.

McDavid, who scored 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in the final nine games before the season was paused, scored two goals in Edmonton's 4-1 exhibition win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. Draisaitl had an assist.

 

3. Special-teams advantage

The Oilers had the No. 1 power play in the NHL (29.5 percent) and the No. 2 penalty kill (84.4 percent), behind the San Jose Sharks (85.7 percent). Draisaitl led the NHL with 45 power-play points, and McDavid was second with 44. Edmonton went 3-for-7 on the power play and 8-for-8 on the penalty kill in its three games against Chicago.

The Blackhawks were 28th on the power play (15.2 percent) and tied for eighth on the penalty kill (82.1 percent). In the win against the Blues, they went 2-for-4 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.

 

Blackhawks projected lineup

Dominik Kubalik -- Jonathan Toews -- Brandon Saad

Alex Nylander -- Dylan Strome -- Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincat -- Kirby Dach -- Drake Caggiula

Matthew Highmore -- David Kampf -- Ryan Carpenter

Duncan Keith -- Adam Boqvist

Calvin de Haan -- Connor Murphy

Olli Maatta -- Slater Koekkoek

Corey Crawford

Malcolm Subban

Scratched: Collin Delia, MacKenzie Entwistle, Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev, John Quenneville, Dylan Sikura, Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Alec Regula, Nick Seeler, Kevin Lankinen

Unfit to play: None

 

Oilers projected lineup

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

Mike Smith

Mikko Koskinen

Scratched: Tyler Benson, Cooper MarodyGaetan Haas, Ryan McLeod, Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, Philip Broberg, Joakim Nygard, Patrick Russell, Caleb Jones, Stuart Skinner

Unfit to play: None

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