Blackhawks

How Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews line bested Oilers' Connor McDavid line in Game 1

How Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews line bested Oilers' Connor McDavid line in Game 1

It would have been easy for the Blackhawks to collapse mentally when Oilers captain Connor McDavid scored a power-play goal just 2:34 into the contest, but they went another direction, scoring four goals off their next 11 shots in a span of 7:06.

Second line center Dylan Strome set the table for the Hawks' to show a profound level of resolve, scoring unassisted at 5:51, tying the game 1-1.

Then, the Hawks' top line — with captain Jonathan Toews centering — scored three goals to help the Blackhawks exit the opening frame up 4-1. Toews scored first to break the tie, followed by Brandon Saad, then Toews with another. 

The talk since the postseason tournament matchup between the Western Conference's No. 12 seed Blackhawks and No. 5 seed Oilers was announced was all about Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the NHL's top two leaders in points, respectively, at the time of the pause on March 12.

Now, after Game 1, the Oilers will be trying to figure out how to contain the Kubalik-Toews-Saad line — with an emphasis on Kubalik — after the combo scored two goals and allowed zero against McDavid and company in 5-on-5 play.

"That line, Toews-Saad-Kubalik, they seem to have a really good understanding of how they want to play in the offensive zone in particular, and finding those holes in the slot, and (Kubalik's) got a great shot. Very coachable kid and he seems to be getting better and better," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said after Saturday's game via a Zoom call with the media from Edmonton.

Kubalik added two power-play goals when the trio was dismantled but he assisted on each of the line's first period goals. When the rookie forward reached five points in the second period with his second power-play goal of the contest, he set two impressive records: most points by a Blackhawks rookie in a playoff game and most points by a player in their postseason debut in NHL history. 

Related: Dominik Kubalik and Jonathan Toews lift Blackhawks over Oilers in Game 1

"Overall as a player, he protects the puck so well, he creates chances, obviously you can see how he scores goals. That helps our power play, that helps our even-strength game, and then just being a horse out there," Saad said of Kubalik after the game. "We always talk about protecting the puck, and making good zone (time) like that. He's so good at protecting it, drawing guys to him, making plays. Just an all-around complete player so that helps Jonny and I a lot."

Toews finished Game 1 with two goals and an assist, Saad with one goal and one assist and Kubalik with two goals and three assists.

McDavid and Draisaitl were thrown together for a total of 2:34 in 5-on-5 play in Game 1. The Oilers might be forced to start them on the same line in Game 2 as a nuclear option and take it from there. 

Whether it's shaking up the lines or more intensity overall, you can expect a lot more from the Oilers and their top line, whoever is on it, on Monday for Game 2 in Edmonton.

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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.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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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.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.

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.