Hockey is back on tap and in a big way, which means there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. To that end, it’s time to get on with the show and sum up the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifying Round matchups.
Up next, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers.
The Blackhawks enter the Qualifying Round at 12th in the Western Conference, with goalie Robin Lehner and other key pieces swapped out at the trade deadline. That diminishes the group significantly, although Chicago has had Edmonton’s number in the regular season. They haven’t met the Oilers in the playoffs since 1992.
The Oilers, meanwhile, could have earned a bye through this Qualifying Round had they won their final game of the regular season way back on March 11. As such, they lost and dropped to fifth in the Western Conference. They enter the series against Chicago possessing one of the most potent top six groups in the NHL.
And that will give the Blackhawks problems, as they give up more shots and scoring chances than any of the other 24 teams in the post-season. That means they need goaltending and that’s why the story of Corey Crawford’s absence has taken on special significance over the past few days. Crawford has only practiced with the team once since they entered the so-called bubble.
If we’re being honest, Edmonton’s D isn’t any great shakes either. They were 25th in save percentage in five-on-five situations and can be rather porous given the wrong set of circumstances, which means they’ll have to work to contain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In the crease, the Oilers are okay. They’ll go with Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen or a combination of the two, depending on how things are looking at Rogers Place. Smith and Koskinen played well enough together and posted a top five winning percentage in the Western Conference.
But naturally, this story and this series will come down to Edmonton’s big guns. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will drive their two lines to score and score often, while that power play will tilt the balance. That spells bad news for the Blackhawks and it’s their series to lose if they can’t keep a lid on the Oilers.