Blackhawks

How Blackhawks executed plan to upset Oilers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Qualifiers

How Blackhawks executed plan to upset Oilers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Qualifiers

The Edmonton Oilers are the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference of the NHL's 24-team Return to Play tournament and it's no secret how they got there:

  • Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid finished first and second in scoring, respectively.
     
  • The Oilers had the first-ranked power play (29.5 percent) and second-ranked penalty kill (84.4 percent) for a special teams sum of 113.9, which was good for second-best in NHL history.


That's it. That's their winning formula.

The hard part is the execution.

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To beat the Oilers, you must contain Draisaitl and McDavid at even strength and stay out of the penalty box. No team in the tournament had a worse 5-on-5 goal differential (minus-13) than the Oilers, who had a plus-49 goal differential on the power play.

The Blackhawks knew this going into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, and they executed their plan about as well as they could have in Saturday's 6-4 win in Game 1.

The Blackhawks held the Oilers to only 17 shots on goal and four high-quality scoring chances at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick. They also scored three power-play goals, which is something they did in a game once all season long. The Oilers also gave up three power-play goals only once this season, so it was a rarity on both fronts.

But here’s the real kicker: Draisaitl and McDavid combined for just three shots on goal in a combined 35:04 of ice time at even strength. The Blackhawks' top-two lines completely shut them down.

It was the power play, of course, where Draisaitl and McDavid shined. They each registered one goal and two assists for the Oilers, who scored all four of their goals on the man advantage — three on the power play and one during a 6-on-5 opportunity. The Blackhawks certainly want to be better in that regard.

But if you hold Draisaitl and McDavid off the scoresheet entirely at even strength, odds are you’re going to win the hockey game. And the Blackhawks did that in Game 1.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: SportsTalk Live says farewell

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: SportsTalk Live says farewell

David Haugh, Jesse Rogers and Mark Potash join David Kaplan on the final episode of SportsTalk Live.

They talk the Blackhawks-Oilers series and what comes next, Luis Robert's chances at MVP, and Cubs chances at the championship.

Plus, David Kaplan says farewell to SportsTalk Live after the show was on the air for over 16 years.

Listen here or below.

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Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach emerging as star and living up to 'playoff performer' hype

Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach emerging as star and living up to 'playoff performer' hype

Ask anyone in Chicago who the standout of training camp 2.0 was and you'll hear one name: Kirby Dach.

“He has all the potential in the world,” Patrick Kane said. “He can be a top player in the league.”

“He’s got the potential to be a great player in this league and a great player for the Blackhawks for a long time," echoed Brent Seabrook.

Upon hearing this enormous praise from a pair of three-time Stanley Cup champions and joining the hype train myself, I couldn’t help but think: Are we putting unfair expectations on a kid who’s still only 19?

The answer: Nope. Because he can handle it.

Dach looks like a completely different player after finally having an “offseason” to recharge, both mentally and physically. And it’s showing in the postseason.

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Through three games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Dach has four points — all assists — and a team-best plus-4 rating; in total, he’s been on the ice for eight of the Blackhawks’ 13 goals so far. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register at least one point in his first three postseason games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985. 

All those numbers are great, but here’s the eye-opener: Dach is averaging 20:21 of ice time in the postseason, which trails only Patrick Kane (22:21) among team forwards. He led all Blackhawks forwards with 23:21 of ice time in Wednesday’s Game 3 comeback win over the Edmonton Oilers, which was, by far, a career high for Dach, who averaged 14:16 of ice time during the regular season.

The Blackhawks are giving him an enormous amount of responsibility, whether it's top-six minutes at even strength, power-play time on the first unit and penalty kill reps. And Dach is handling it about as well as you could ask for.

"He loves responsibility and he thrives on it," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We knew, based on how he looked in training camp, that he was ready to take a bigger role here. He's been great. He's been as advertised."

Dach isn't just making an impact on the scoresheet, either. He's doing the little things right, too.

Olli Maatta scored the first goal in Game 3 after his shot from the point got past Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen, but that puck doesn't go in without the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Dach wreaking havoc in front of the net. Those plays don't go unnoticed inside the locker room.

"It shows that the coach trusts in your abilities to get a job done," Dach said of the added responsibility. "And as a player, it's a welcoming challenge. You want to be put in those situations and succeed in them."

One of the main reasons why the Blackhawks selected Dach third overall in 2019 was because of the way he elevated his game in the Western Hockey League playoffs. He was the engine for the Saskatoon Blades and the focal point for opponents yet thrived off the attention.

“He does all the things that can wow you, but then he does the other stuff, too," GM Stan Bowman said the day the Blackhawks drafted Dach. "He was great at stripping pucks, he was great at backchecking, he was great at the physical play when the series got pretty intense in the playoffs and it was clear they were targeting him. He not only took it, he gave it back. It was impressive to see him raise his game at a time of year when it matters most, which is playoff hockey.

"You watch the NHL playoffs and you see how intense it can be and then you look at the way he plays, and you can see that that game translates."

It sure does.

Whether he can be a big-time point producer in the NHL remains to be seen, but it's clear Dach is the kind of player whose game is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season. And we're seeing why.