No one expected to be talking about a desperate Edmonton Oilers team — the home ice squad and No. 5 seed in the Western Conference with the league's top two leaders in points during the regular season — trying to keep the No. 12 seed Blackhawks from running away with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers series, but here we are.
It was just one game, but one game is a world of difference in a best-of-five series, which the qualifiers are. A possible Blackhawks' Game 2 victory puts the hometown Oilers in serious trouble.
The Hawks don't expect the Oilers just to be more desperate because of a Game 1 loss, but how Edmonton lost.
After Oilers captain Connor McDavid scored on a power play 2:34 into the contest, things were looking great for Edmonton and Chicago looked outclassed early on. Then, the Blackhawks scored four-unanswered first-period goals and went on to win 6-4.
"I don’t think it’s ever too soon (to say that)," Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said of the possibility of the Oilers playing more desperately in Game 2 on Monday. "Last game was very important. We understood it was pivotal and now here comes another one. We’d be naïve if we don’t think they’re going to throw everything they have at us. They’re a good team, they’ve had good results all year, have some tremendous top-end weapons and we respect them fully and know we have to play our absolute best to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s how we’re approaching it."
The win was more lopsided than the score would suggest. After Hawks rookie Dominik Kubalik's first of two second-period power play goals, the Blackhawks chased Oilers goalie Mike Smith out of the game after his fifth allowed goal.
On Monday, Oilers coach Dave Tippett announced Mikko Koskinen would start in net for Edmonton in Game 2.
The Hawks were able to outclass McDavid and Leon Draisaitl's Oilers on Saturday. But Monday is far from a guaranteed W. It's not just a more desperate team the Blackhawks should be facing, but the talent and skill underneath the expected emotion and purpose.
Edmonton's power play looked just like it did during the regular season when it was the best in the league, going 3-for-4 in Game 1 with McDavid and Draisaitl getting a goal apiece on the man advantage. The Hawks matched with three power-play goals out of six attempts in the contest.
Chicago's core members have experienced just about everything that can happen in a postseason. They will likely set the tone for the even-keeled mindset needed for Game 2.
"I think there’s a lot of experience in the room, a lot of core guys have been to a lot of playoff runs," Blackhawks defenseman Olli Maatta, who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming to Chicago, said. "They know it’s only Game 1, but we have to feel good about what we’ve done. After every game, win or loss, you have to look at the good things and fix the things you can be better at. We won Game 1, it’s a good start, but this game starts 0-0. It shows how good of a team we are when we play the game the right way. It’s just the way we’ve got to do it every day."
Game 2 between the Hawks and Oilers begins at 9:30 p.m. CT on Monday.