Domink Kubalik is a Calder Trophy finalist. He’s flourished since coming to Chicago from the Los Angeles Kings, earning time on the Blackhawks’ top line. With 30 goals scored in 68 games, Kubalik leads all NHL rookies this season in goals. But where does his 2019-20 season rank among the greatest rookie seasons in Blackhawks franchise history?
The big things, the little things... Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was doing them all in the Hawks' 3-1 series upset of the Western Conference's No. 5 seeded Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Toews, 32, finished the best-of-five qualifying round series with seven points (four goals, three assists) a plus/minus rating of plus-2, a faceoff percentage of 55.34 and was on the ice for five goals for and two against in 5-on-5 play vs. Edmonton.
His game-winning goal with 1:16 remaining in Game 3 to make it 4-3, which deflected off his shin pad from a Connor Murphy shot, tied Toews with Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Patrick Kane for most postseason game winners (11) in Hawks' history.
"Technically we just made the playoffs now, so the real fun begins," Toews said after Friday's Game 4. "We worked pretty hard in this series to beat a good team and we're gonna have to dig deep to keep getting better and better (against) the next one. It's fun, like I said, even though there's no fans in the building. Guys want to win. Nice to get that series win. I think everyone's feeling good."
After Friday's Game 4 win, the Blackhawks improved to 17-5 in elimination games since 2010. In those games, Toews has 29 points with 11 goals and 18 assists. Patrick Kane also has 29 points in those elimination contests with 14 goals and 15 assists.
The stats speak volumes of the captain's start to the postseason, but the way he played to record them say a lot more regarding the level Toews is performing at.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion center parking in front of the Oilers' net was a familiar sight during the series. After more than a decade of taking abuse in front of the crease, Toews is still willing to pay the price for his team.
It wasn't just his two two-goal games, dominating on the dot and a strong defensive game throughout the series that was impressive, it was the determination that led to it.
Taking Captain Serious to another level pic.twitter.com/S0SvMIzhqy— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) August 6, 2020
There was a retro postseason intensity to his game, on display for the Hawks' younger players to observe the kind of edge successful playoff hockey often requires.
There was pulling up the bootstraps, packing the lunch pail and going to work on the boards, battling to get the puck to create chances, like when he won a battle down low to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck for the series-clinching goal at 8:30 of the third period in Game 4.
"Jonny’s been around a long time and he’s got a pretty immaculate track record in the playoffs," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said after Game 4. "To me, his biggest attribute that he has is his compete level. He wins a 50/50 battle on the winning goal, just finds a way to come up with the puck, and that’s the winner. He came up big for us throughout the series in those types of situations. Great player."
It's no wonder the Blackhawks' younger players were so effective in the series. When they see veteran Hawks like their captain, several years their senior, doing the right things with purpose, they have no excuse not to.
"Thought he was great," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford said after Friday's game. "He was obviously one of our best players, not just offensively but he had a big block in the third there when they were pressuring. I mean when a leader's doing that I think that just follows throughout the lineup. Obviously he's won some Cups and knows how to play in these games, not much of a difference now. He was great."
Led by their captain, the Blackhawks did a lot right in the play-in series. They'll have momentum heading into Round One, albeit against a better team in the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights, but Toews' team has bought in.
If he continues to play at the level he opened the postseason at, anything is possible for him and his Hawks. Stranger things have happened in 2020.
There was a lot the Western Conference's No. 12 seeded Blackhawks did right to upset the West's No. 5 seeded home ice Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Here's some observations:
There was a common theme for a lot of the goals the Hawks scored against the Oilers, they were hard-earned and a lot of them were deflected into the Oilers' net. Five of the Blackhawks' 16 goals in the series came off deflections.
Matthew Highmore had a tip-in late in Game 3 to set the table for the 4-3 comeback victory, then scored the same way to put the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the first period of Game 4. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had a Connor Murphy shot deflect off his shin pad for the game-winning goal in Game 3 with 1:16 remaining in regulation.
Throughout the series, the forwards got the puck to the D-men in the offensive zone and got to the front of the net to create a screen or try for a tip-in. The formula constantly worked for the Hawks and they need to keep at it for as long as they're in the postseason.
Keeping McDavid and Draisaitl in check
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid had the first and second most points in the NHL before the pause, respectively.
Against the Blackhawks in the qualifying round, they had a combined 15 points (five goals, four assists for McDavid; and three goals, three assists for Draisaitl), which may not read like an accomplishment, but considering the uncanny offensive talent the two possess, the Hawks definitely succeeded in limiting their chances and keeping them from reaching their full level of production or potential in the series.
Coach Jeremy Colliton and his Hawks definitely got the best of McDavid and Draisaitl when they were the home team and had last change in Games 3 and 4. Colliton often put Toews' line against McDavid's — as well as the Blackhawks' fourth line with center David Kamp occasionally.
Toews and his line were able to play solid defense against McDavid and the other Edmonton combos they faced. The Blackhawks captain was also able to help the Hawks hang onto the puck, winning 55.34% of the faceoffs he took in the series. McDavid won 43.1% of his draws in the qualifying round.
The Hawks went 12-for-17 on the penalty kill, including 5-for-5 in Game 4, in the play-in series against the Oilers. Chicago only allowing Edmonton five power-play goals in the entire series is pretty impressive as the Oilers touted the best power-play in the league during the regular season.
Maintaining a strong PK would benefit the Hawks in Round One, but so would staying out of the box to avoid an unfavorable momentum swing.
Captain seriously good
Toews had a monster series, resembling his former 2010 Conn Smythe-winning self in how he was able to take over some of the games in the qualifying round against top players like McDavid and Draisaitl.
In addition to being able to limit McDavid and win a majority of his draws, Toews had seven points (four goals, three assists) in the series.
The three-time Stanley Cup champ had two two-goal games (Game 1 and Game 3) in the series and won a battle behind the net to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck in front for the series-clinching goal in Game 4.
After missing the first 12 days of the Hawks' Phase 3 training camp after recovering from COVID-19, Crawford progressed into looking like the two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie he is and appears to have plenty of quality hockey left in the tank.
After allowing 13 total goals in the first three games of the series, Crawford played his best contest on Friday, saving 43 of 45 Oilers shots for the win. It definitely looks like he's now in postseason form.
The Blackhawks younger players really stepped up in the qualifying round series. After Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach was arguably the most consistently good Hawk.
Dach, 19, was only held off the scoresheet in Game 4 after logging a three-game point streak with four assists to start the series. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to score a point in his first three playoff games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985.
Kubalik, 24, set a new Blackhawks record for rookie points in a playoff game with his five-point performance in Game 1, scoring two power-play goals and picking up three assists. Steve Larmer held the previous record. Larmer had four points (one goal, three assists) in Game 2 of the 1983 Division Finals. Larmer went on to win the Calder Trophy in 1983.
Kubalik also became the first player to record five points in his postseason debut in NHL history.
Highmore, 24, put the Hawks ahead 2-1 at 7:56 of the first period of Game 4 after tipping in a Duncan Keith shot from in front of the net. It was the second straight game Highmore scored off a deflection. In Game 3, he tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third period, deflecting a shot from defenseman Slater Koekkoek past Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and setting the table for Toews to complete the 4-3 comeback victory.