Blackhawks show they're serious about making noise as No. 12 seed

Blackhawks show they're serious about making noise as No. 12 seed

The Blackhawks know they were handed a gift when the NHL included them in the 24-team Return to Play tournament, sneaking in as the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference despite having a 2.6 percent chance of making the playoffs prior to the pause.

But they won't apologize for it. They're here and ready to take advantage of this opportunity after missing out on the postseason in back-to-back years.

"We're excited to show that we belong and we could make some noise as an underdog," Duncan Keith said during training camp.

The Blackhawks put their words into action on Saturday, routing the Edmonton Oilers 6-4 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Don't let the final score fool you. It was a one-sided game from start to finish.

"It feels good," said Jonathan Toews, who scored twice and added an assist to surpass Steve Larmer for fifth in franchise history with 113 playoff points. "We snuck in, got that last spot. Obviously it's a qualifier, but you get one win under your belt and it's a good feeling. It gives you that confidence there's no telling how far you can go. It's playoff hockey, anything can happen. It's good to be back, kind of get that monkey off our back."

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The Blackhawks led in just about every statistical category, including shot attempts (70-51), shots on goal (43-29), 5-on-5 scoring chances (22-16) and offensive zone possession time (7:15-6:49), according to Sportlogiq. They gave up the first goal 2:34 into the opening period but responded with four unanswered in a span of 7:06 and chased goaltender Mike Smith in the second period.

Dominik Kubalik, most notably, set a record for most points by an NHL rookie in his playoff debut with five (two goals, three assists) while the power play scored three times, which is something it did only once in a game all season long.

The Blackhawks came out with more urgency, confidence and, quite frankly, played a dominant all-around 60-minute game than the Oilers, who scored all four of their goals with the man advantage. 

"We weren't good enough," said Connor McDavid, who had a three-point effort. "In every facet. Simple as that."

Teams that win Game 1 of a Stanley Cup playoff series have gone on to advance 69.6 percent of the time. But this is a five-game series, not a traditional seven, which makes Saturday's win even more important.

And the Blackhawks know they can't take their foot off the gas pedal.

"Edmonton is going to be very desperate on Monday," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We expect them to get better and we're going to have to match it."

How Blackhawks are trying to stay positive despite postseason-high 12 iron shots 

How Blackhawks are trying to stay positive despite postseason-high 12 iron shots 

Goal posts apparently aren't kind to the city of Chicago in the playoffs. (Nobody needs a reminder of the double-doink).

So if you hear a ringing sound, you’re not alone. 

The Blackhawks are six games into their postseason run and have hit 12 iron shots so far — 10 off the post, two off the crossbar. Twelve! That’s an average of two per game and a pace of 164 across an 82-game season. For reference, they hit the iron 58 times — 48 off the post, 10 off the crossbar — in 70 games during the regular season.

No team has hit more iron than the Blackhawks (12) since the NHL's 24-team Return to Play tournament started and it's not even close. The next highest? Toronto at six. An incredible gap.

"It's always tough hitting the post," said Drake Caggiula, who's hit one crossbar this postseason. "You’re close to scoring a goal but that’s hockey. It’s all about bounces. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t, you've just got to stick with it. It's just something where you've got to keep shooting the puck and trust that you're going to get your chances and make sure that you try and capitalize. But hitting the post is never a fun feeling unless it's going in the net. We've just got to make sure it doesn’t discourage us."

Here's a list of where each team sits when it comes to iron shots, through Thursday's games:

  • 12: Blackhawks
  • 6: Toronto
  • 5: Boston
  • 4: Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Montreal, N.Y. Rangers, Vegas
  • 3: Florida, N.Y. Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • 2: Carolina, Dallas, Edmonton, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg
  • 1: Vancouver
  • 0: Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis

The Blackhawks hit five posts in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, but it was easier to swallow because it came in a win. It wasn't so easy in a Game 2 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

Patrick Kane, who leads all skaters this postseason with three shots off the post, hit another one with 43 seconds left in the first period on Thursday when the Blackhawks were trailing 2-0. He beat Robin Lehner five-hole, but the puck rang off the pipe and bounced out. 

You could see the frustration in his face:

The Blackhawks did, however, get a nice break on Dominik Kubalik's power-play goal that tied the game at 2-2. His shot went off the inside of the post and in.

But the one that kept Chicago awake is the crossbar shot in overtime. 

Just 1:53 into extra time, Dylan Strome fired a 35-foot wrist shot from the right faceoff circle and rang it off the bottom part of the crossbar. He lifted his hands in the air thinking it was a goal. It was centimeters away from going bar down but bounced out instead.

The Blackhawks are certainly getting their chances. It's challenging to stick with it when the puck luck isn't going your way, but you have to earn your bounces and the Blackhawks must keep pushing through. That's the message.

"We've had our chances," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Sometimes it's like that. The key is, how long can we stick with it? How long can we be persistent when we face adversity? We've faced some adversity here over the first couple games. Do we have the character to overcome it? It's an opportunity for our guys.

"You play all year to be in these games, so now we're here and we've faced some adversity. So what? Just keep playing and believe in what we're doing and believe in the guys in the room and we're going to give them a run."

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Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner remains unbeaten with Vegas Golden Knights

Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner remains unbeaten with Vegas Golden Knights

On Thursday in Game 2, the Blackhawks tested Robin Lehner more than they did in Game 1 of the first round Stanley Cup Playoff series, when he only had to save 19 of 20 shots.

The Hawks were able to put 25 pucks on the Golden Knights' net, with three getting past Lehner to take the game to overtime where Vegas would triumph to take a 2-0 series lead.

"It was a little bit of a weird game," Lehner said following his Game 2 win. "There was not that much to do and I thought they had some good chances. I thought that Chicago played really well. Everyone keeps saying they're (the) underdog, but you look at their team: the experience, the skill... it's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane out there. It's a lot of skill and they're world class players, so when they get opportunities it's hard. I got to look at the tape, I think I can be a little bit better, but a win's a win."

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is ureal

With the victory, Lehner remains unbeaten in the 2020 postseason (4-0) and unbeaten as a Golden Knight. 

The 29-year-old netminder went 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage with the Knights during the regular season ahead of the NHL Pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12. 

Related: Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

Lehner was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk this season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champ with the Pittsburgh Penguins, may have lost the starter job to Lehner, at least for now. Fleury was only in net for one Golden Knights' round-robin game, with Lehner starting the rest of the postseason contests so far.

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