NHL 20 sim: Blackhawks battle for playoff lives vs. Islanders

NHL 20 sim: Blackhawks battle for playoff lives vs. Islanders

With the Blackhawks down to their final two games on the would-be NHL schedule, we decided to wrap up their season by simulating the New York swing in NHL 20. The Hawks finish up with two games in the Empire State; first a matchup with the Islanders followed by a showdown with Artemi Panarin’s Rangers.

These games are must-wins as the Blackhawks fight for a playoff berth. How did we get to this point? Here's the scenario: The Hawks surged through mid-March largely due to a heavy home schedule. Chicago defended home ice with a record of 6-1-1 in their last eight games at the United Center, coupled with a 2-0-1 record in their remaining three road games of the month, good for an 8-1-2 record leading up to the final two games of the season. Getting four of four points in their home-and-home against the Minnesota Wild was crucial. 

Despite the late playoff push, the Blackhawks still need all four points in their East Coast visit to potentially earn a wild card spot in a crowded Western Conference. Can they continue their hot streak and vault themselves into the playoffs?

Blackhawks at Islanders (4/2)
Result: Blackhawks win 5-2
Three Stars:
1st Star: Dylan Strome (2 G, 1 A, 6 SOG)
2nd Star: Leo Komarov (2 G)
3rd Star: Brandon Saad (2 G, +1)

The Blackhawks’ big men were key to the win in Brooklyn. Strome and Saad both stepped up with multi-goal performances and were vital to the Blackhawks success on the man-advantage. The Hawks will need both to continue to play important roles on special teams if they want to get into the postseason and make a run.
Scoring Summary:
1st Period
-       11:01: Leo Komarov (B. Nelson, D. Toews) 1-0
-       13:17: Brandon Saad (A. DeBrincat, A. Boqvist) 1-1
-       14:38 PP Brandon Saad (A. Nylander, D. Strome) 2-1
2nd Period
-       9:55 PP Dylan Strome (A. Nylander, D. Keith) 3-1
3rd Period
-       5:05 DeBrincat (J. Toews, K. Dach) 4-1
-       12:04 Leo Komarov (M. Martin, J. Boychuk) 4-2
-       19:20 EN Dylan Strome (A. Nylander, P. Kane) 5-2

Box Score:
Shots on Goal:
-       Chicago: 37
-       New York: 26

The Blackhawks defense stepped up in a big way limiting the Islanders to just 26 shots on goal. The six Chicago power plays certainly helped swing things in their favor, but limiting shots has been a Blackhawks weakness all season (35.1 shots allowed per game). If Corey Crawford is seeing close to 10 less shots per game than the team average, the Hawks stand a chance against anyone.
-       Corey Crawford: 24/26 (.923 SV%)
-       Semyon Varlamov: 32/36 (.888 SV%)

Corey Crawford was consistent in net for the Hawks yet again, as he has been since the deadline day trade of Robin Lehner. The first goal was one he might want back, but it was still conceded to an open shooter in the slot. The second was a perfectly placed shot Crawford had very little chance on.
Power Play:
-       Chicago: 2-6
-       New York: 0-3

Special teams success is key to any postseason run, and for a team like Chicago that has had major struggles on the power play this season, this game was a welcomed sight. A pair of goals on the man-advantage and a perfect penalty kill is a recipe for success.
Notable Blackhawks performances
-       Alex Debrincat (Goal, Assist)
-       Alex Nylander (3 Assists)
-       Kirby Dach (Assist)
-       Adam Boqvist (Assist)

The Blackhawks had several young players step up and play big roles in a big situation. Alex Nylander chipped in with 3 assists (2 on the PP). Adam Boqvist notched an assist on the game-tying goal early. Alex DeBrincat set up the go-ahead goal and netted the goal that effectively put the game out of reach, a goal that Kirby Dach assisted on. For the Blackhawks to make a deep playoff run, they’ll need contributions like this from their youth. With their postseason hopes on the line, it’s a positive performance out of the team’s young players hoping to get their first taste of the playoffs.

Blackhawks able to hold group workouts starting Monday when NHL's Phase 2 begins

Blackhawks able to hold group workouts starting Monday when NHL's Phase 2 begins

On Thursday, the NHL announced that it will move to Phase 2 of its Return To Play Plan effective on Monday, June 8.

Teams like the Blackhawks will be allowed to open their practice facilities for off-ice and on-ice "individualized training activities". A maximum amount of six players, plus limited team staff, are permitted to be scheduled for workouts on a voluntary basis.

Per the NHL "participation (education, diagnostic testing, scheduling for medicals, etc.), can begin immediately." 

It was recently reported that team training camps to lead up to the 24-team postseason format wouldn't begin ahead of July 10. Under the format, the Blackhawks are set to take on the Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-5 play-in round.

The NHL paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Breaking down Blackhawks' path to Stanley Cup in 24-team Return to Play format

Breaking down Blackhawks' path to Stanley Cup in 24-team Return to Play format

The NHL and NHL Players' Association officially ironed out the final details of its 24-team Return to Play format, which is another positive step in the right direction as both sides look to reach an overall agreement on resuming play.

Here's a brief rundown of the most notable items from Thursday's announcement:

— The qualifying round will be composed of a best-of-5 series while the four other rounds will be best-of-7. 

— The top four teams from each conference will play each other in a round-robin format to determine the No. 1-4 seeds. Regular season points percentage will serve as the tiebreaker.

— Instead of the traditional bracketed format in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL will reseed after each round, with the highest remaining seed in each conference facing the lowest remaining seed, etc.

— In the qualifying round and first and second rounds, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team. In the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be considered the home team.

The details shouldn't come as much of a surprise. It was important to the players to maintain the integrity of the playoffs while making sure the teams that had a strong regular season were rewarded with a favorable path. For the Blackhawks, the challenge got a little more difficult but that was to be expected.

This is what the Western Conference playoff picture looks like:

1. St. Louis Blues 
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Vegas Golden Knights
4. Dallas Stars

5. Edmonton Oilers vs. 12. Chicago Blackhawks
6. Nashville Predators vs. 11. Arizona Coyotes
7. Vancouver Canucks vs. 10. Minnesota Wild
8. Calgary Flames vs. 9. Winnipeg Jets

Should they upset the Oilers in the qualifying round, the Blackhawks would face the highest seed of the round-robin winner in the first round of the playoffs. Right now, that's the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues, who swept the Blackhawks in a regular-season series for the first time in their 53-year history. The Blackhawks went 0-4-0 and were outscored by the Blues 16-8 this season.

Here's how the Blackhawks fared against the three other top seeds in the West:

— 1-3-0 vs. Colorado with a minus-8 goal differential (19 goals for, 11 goals against)
— 1-1-1 vs. Vegas with a minus-2 goal differential (nine goals for, seven goals against)
— 1-1-1 vs. Dallas with a plus-2 goal differential (five goals for, three goals against)

If the Blackhawks advance past the first round, their path will only get tougher. As the last seed in their respective conference, they will draw the highest seed as each round progresses under the re-seeding format.

But nobody should be disappointed about that. The Blackhawks have been given new life and Chicago will take it.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.s