Blackhawks

Blackhawks

Let's be honest, the 24-team playoff format giving the Blackhawks a shot at making it to the playoffs is a gift. The Hawks, 12th in the Western Conference when the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were six points out of a wild card spot with four teams to jump and only 12 regular season games remaining. 

Now, they're set to take on the West's fifth place Edmonton Oilers in a five-game play-in series when NHL action potentially returns.

The playoff format was recently agreed upon by the NHLPA. There are a few more details to iron out including the start time for teams to begin small group workouts as well as when the play-in series and first playoff round would begin. Locations of hub cities the NHL will use for this unprecedented postseason need to be hashed out as well.

But, things are moving in the right direction. The Hawks are in the mix and know their opponent if, and when, play resumes as North America eases up on coronavirus restrictions.

So do the Blackhawks have a shot?

Let's look at this year's regular season:

The Hawks went 2-1-0 against the Oilers and got the edge with a plus-1 goal differential. 

Edmonton sports the NHL's top two points leaders with Leon Draisaitl (110; 43 goals, 67 assists) and Connor McDavid (97; 34 goals, 63 assists). The Oilers haven't produced much offense outside of Draisaitl and McDavid's high level of production. Edmonton is 11th in goals for among the league.

 

If the Hawks are able to limit Draisaitl and McDavid, which they were able to do a bit this season, that would help their chances of making it past the play-in series and to the first round tremendously.

Jonathan Toews has always been up for the challenge of shutting down the opposition's top center and usually gives his opponent a tough night. The problem with Draisaitl and McDavid is they could play on the same line or be split up.

If Edmonton loads them up on a line together you could see Toews line up with McDavid and Brandon Saad, another strong defensive forward for the Hawks, take Draisaitl. If the two are split up, likely with Draisaitl centering the Oilers second line, Jeremy Colliton might be matching up a Hawks shut-down line with bottom six forwards like David Kampf zeroing in on the NHL's points leader.

The Oilers will be on the lookout for Patrick Kane, as most teams are, who could be alongside Toews on the top line or on the second with Dylan Strome likely centering. Kane was eighth in points at the time of the pause with 84 (33 goals, 51 assists) in 70 games.

Related: Patrick Kane was a reason players voted against a best-of-three series

As tough as things got defensively for the Hawks this season, especially after losing Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook to season-ending surgeries, they had fewer goals against (214) than the Oilers (215). 

Assuming Mike Smith gets the start in net for Edmonton, Corey Crawford wins the tale of the goalie tape. Not only does Crawford edge out Smith in goals-against average (2.77 to 2.95) and save percentage (.917 to .902) but Crawford got those numbers while battling for starts against Robin Lehner with an often-struggling defense before Lehner was traded at the deadline. 

With the Oilers allowing more goals than the Hawks and with Crawford being the better goalie, Chicago could be able to allow fewer pucks in their net than Edmonton.

Probably the biggest challenge with the Oilers will be special teams.

Edmonton has been a powerhouse on the power play, converting on 29.5% of their man advantages, good for first in the league. The Hawks power play was near last during the 2019-20 regular season, converting at 15.2%, 28th out of 31 NHL teams. 

The Oilers had the second-best penalty kill in the league before play stopped, thwarting 84.4% of the power plays they faced. The Hawks weren't too far behind in ninth place, killing 82.1% of their penalties.  

If Chicago can limit the scoring prowess of Draisaitl and McDavid and step up their special teams, more so their power play — easier said than done the last couple years — they could upset Edmonton and advance to the true first round.

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