The Chicago Blackhawks are used to the underdog role by now and they find themselves in it once more against the Vegas Golden Knights. Chicago dispatched the Edmonton Oilers in the Qualifying Round and it was called an upset because it was. If they drop the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’ll be called an upset – because it will be.
Vegas holds most of the advantages in this series, at least on paper, but that’s not to say the Blackhawks don’t have a few edges.
Chicago has a better penalty kill, for example.
The Blackhawks were supposed to be in tough against Edmonton, a high-powered hockey club with a top-tier offence. Chicago allowed a lot of high-danger chances in five-on-five situations in the regular season and allowed the most of any team in the Qualifying Round, while goalie Corey Crawford posted a .891 save percentage in the Edmonton series.
The Blackhawks turned to goal-scoring to snag the series win, but it’ll be harder to score as much against the Golden Knights.
With Peter DeBoer becoming head coach in January, Vegas got an instant boost in the puck possession class and blazed a path through the round robin, averaging five goals a game in wins over Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis. Seven players had at least three points.
Throw in Vegas goalie Robin Lehner, who was traded to the Golden Knights by Chicago at the deadline because Chicago thought they were on the outside looking in at the playoffs, and you’ve got another interesting wrinkle in this series. Lehner found the situation more than a little tricky but has to be looking for a measure of comeuppance against his former squad.
The netminder is slated to get the Game One start, so he’ll have a shot at getting any butterflies out of the way early.
And Vegas will get Max Pacioretty back for Game One after he suffered an undisclosed injury that kept him out of all three round robin games. He arrived in Edmonton a week ago and completed quarantine Sunday.
We know the Blackhawks can score – they are tied with Calgary for the most goals in the post-season so far – and they have a good mix of veteran leadership and youth up and down the roster. But against Vegas and their hearty team defence, they might not pull off the same offensive barrage they did against Edmonton.
And that could make this series a short one.