Blackhawks

NHL Power Rankings: Who's got the edge when 24-team format starts?

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NBC Sports Chicago

NHL Power Rankings: Who's got the edge when 24-team format starts?

The new 24-team playoff format certainly won’t please everyone in the NHL, but it gives a lifeline to a handful of teams that were on the outside looking in at the time of the league pause on March 12. And there is no coincidence that the NHL made it a point to include Montreal and Chicago, two of the biggest fanbases in the league, to provide yet another opportunity to recoup some lost revenue.

The new format also provides some intriguing matchups, not only in the play-in round, but also deeper into the playoffs. Could a play-in team go on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup? That remains to be seen. The new format is a whole new adventure and will surely feature plenty of unpredictability, as every Stanley Cup Playoffs does.

Here’s our rankings of the 24 teams taking part

How long can Blackhawks ride "all-time high" morale in postseason?

How long can Blackhawks ride "all-time high" morale in postseason?

Veterans well-rested, players fully recovered from injuries; a shot to play for the Stanley Cup at No. 12 in their conference; a dominant 4-0 exhibition win over the defending Stanley Cup champions; a decisive first postseason win as an underdog against the true home team touting the two best players in the league... The Blackhawks have a lot to be happy about, and it sounds like that's the case behind the scenes.

"The excitement's higher than normal," Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad, who scored Chicago's third goal of Saturday's 6-4 Game 1 victory over the Oilers said. "It's a unique situation, playing without fans and being in a bubble and things like that. But the camaraderie on the team is at an all-time high. Everyone's excited to be here, be in playoff action, and anytime you're scoring goals, you're hooting and hollering. It was just a great feeling overall today."

We'll see if the Hawks can keep that feeling alive for Monday's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Qualifier against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl's Oilers.

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

Whatever is going on off the ice and in the room yielded a resolve that was virtually non-existent during the regular season. After Edmonton went ahead early in the game off a McDavid power-play goal from a mindless Chicago too-many-men penalty, rather than hang their heads, the Hawks went to work.

Second line center Dylan Strome led the charge with the equalizer, then the Blackhawks' top line of Dominik Kubalik--Jonathan Toews--Brandon Saad took over, scoring two more first period goals and shutting down McDavid's line in 5-on-5 play.

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

"I don't think it was surprising," Strome said on Sunday. "We've been a team that's been pretty resilient all year. Maybe too many ups and downs, but that maybe prepared us well for this kind of format. We know anything can happen and they showed that at the end of the game with two quick goals and it got pretty close there at the end with the goalie pulled. 

"We played well and they got off to that good start on the power play with that too-many-men call, so the biggest thing for us is just staying out of the box. We saw how lethal their power play is and how much damage it can do. Take penalties as needed, maybe to prevent a goal or save a goal. It was nice to get four in the first period there, so it was a great start for us."

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton has noticed a fired up and opportunistic club in front of him. Now the coach and his Hawks will shift their focus to Monday's Game 2, when the Oilers will hungrily look to redeem themselves. 

Related: 5 Blackhawks historic facts from Game 1 win of Stanley Cup Qualifiers

"We’re making the best of the situation," Colliton said on Sunday. "We had a chance to play in the playoffs and we’re excited about the opportunity, we won one game. Now it’s in the past and we had a meeting today and it’s all about Game 2, understanding the challenge ahead of us. 

"They’re an excellent team that’s going to respond. I’m sure they have a lot of confidence in that room that they have what it takes to win and they’re going to be better on Monday. We’re going to need to improve, too, and that’s gotta be the only thing we’re thinking about."

Following the Hawks' exhibition win over the Blues, AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" could be heard blasting in the team's dressing room. It's the same tune the squad was playing when traditional playoff hopes were alive in early February. Only now, the postseason is a reality and Chicago has a strong start with the accompanying momentum underneath them.

Related: Why Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy are 'a natural fit' on Blackhawks' defense

"We've been a close team all year. We love to hang out, and there's really no bad blood or animosity on the team," Strome said. "Everyone's good friends and everyone enjoys being around each other, and the bubble is only bringing that even closer. We're hanging out a lot, playing some cards, playing video games, watching hockey. It helps getting off to a win against St. Louis, so obviously the team morale is higher when you win. Two wins to start is a great way to start and hopefully we can keep following that up."

With a counterattack looming from the Western Conference's No. 5 seed, we'll see if the Hawks can keep the good vibes coming on and off the ice and give fans and each other more to hoot and holler about in Game 2 on Monday.

Why Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy are 'a natural fit' on Blackhawks' defense

Why Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy are 'a natural fit' on Blackhawks' defense

Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan hadn't played in an NHL game that counted since having shoulder surgery in December. He had six points (one goal, five assists) and a +/- rating of +10 in 29 games with Chicago before the procedure.

The NHL pause on March 12, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed him to recover and be back in the Hawks' lineup for the NHL's 24-team postseason tournament.

De Haan, who missed the majority of the Blackhawks' Phase 3 training camp dealing with a family emergency, was on the Hawks' second pairing with defenseman Connor Murphy in Saturday's 6-4 Game 1 win over the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. 

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

Murphy, who missed time at camp with a groin injury, had 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) and a +/- rating of +2 in 58 games with the Hawks during the regular season.

Together, de Haan and Murphy were a dependable pair against the speedy and skilled hometown Oilers, and got better as the game went on. Both D-men logged a +/- rating of 0 in Game 1 with four hits and one blocked shot a piece. Murphy also fired four shots at Edmonton's net. 

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

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton liked what he saw from de Haan in his first official game back since the surgery, and from the pairing as a whole.

"Very solid and more and more comfortable as he gets more time on the ice," Colliton said of de Haan's game on Saturday. "Together with Murph, they haven’t played together a whole lot, seems like a natural fit. But with the injuries both had – Murph was injured early and de Haan the whole second half – they haven’t had the chance to play together much. Now they’re together, I think they’ll get better and better as we go. They were solid for us."

Murphy felt the Hawks' team game as well as his and de Haan's relationship off the ice allowed the pair to be effective so far in the tournament. 

"It's been great playing with Haaner," Murphy said. "These games haven't been so hard defending against St. Louis (Wednesday's 4-0 exhibition win) or Edmonton so far just because of how great we played as a team and limited a lot of their speed and offense. 

Related: 5 Blackhawks historic facts from Game 1 win of Stanley Cup Qualifiers over Oilers

"Overall, it's always nice playing with a veteran guy who's so smart and predictable out there and communicates a lot, and I feel like me and Haaner have a good relationship even off the ice that leads us to playing smoothly together when we're out there. I don't think it takes long to develop any sort of chemistry, especially since the team's been together all year, whether there's injuries or not. It's definitely nice to be paired with him."

If de Haan and Murphy continue to play how they did against Edmonton in Game 1, they'll be providing a lot of balance and reliability to the Hawks' blue line. The Blackhawks can definitely use a repeat in that department as the Oilers will be looking to put forth a better effort on their home turf in Game 2.

The Blackhawks take on the Oilers in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Qualifier at 9:30 p.m. CT on Monday.