The Blackhawks had their work cut out for them in the qualifying round against the Edmonton Oilers. It was all about containing the two best players in the world in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, both of whom weren’t as much of a factor at even strength as we’re used to seeing in a competitive series that lasted four games.
But the Blackhawks are about to face a different beast in the Vegas Golden Knights, who locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The two teams will square off in a best-of-seven series in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Blackhawks watched the Golden Knights’ round-robin finale on Saturday from their suite at Rogers Place, getting an up-close look at their next opponent. And they know they're in for a challenge.
"They're a good team," Kirby Dach said. "They're deep up front, they have good defense, obviously great goaltending. They play the game fast, they're smart, they're a disciplined team. We just know we're going to have to keep elevating our game to compete and hopefully win the series, but we have a long way to go. It's going to be a battle. We've got to be ready each and every night because we know they're going to bring it."
The Golden Knights went 3-0 in round-robin play, beating the No. 1 offensive team (Colorado) and No. 1 defensive team (Dallas) in the West, and defending Stanley Cup champions (St. Louis) by a combined score of 15-10. And they didn't even look their best.
But when they are at their best, the Golden Knights are seemingly unbeatable.
The Golden Knights ranked No. 1 this season in even-strength shot attempts from the slot for (25.4 per game) and even-strength shots on net from the slot (15.1), according to Sportlogiq. They also ranked No. 1 in even-strength shot attempts from the slot against (18.8).
The Golden Knights are just as good of an offensive team than they are defensively at even strength and can come at you in waves.
"They seem to use all four lines a little more than Edmonton did," Connor Murphy said. "Edmonton had their top two or three forwards that carried a lot of the offense and played a lot of minutes and seemed to have a lot of possession in their hands. It'll be definitely different defending against that team game and that simple pressure and speed that they have. They play that playoff-style game as well. That'll be something that we look at these next couple days, and either adjust or roll with."
To cap it off, the Golden Knights have arguably the best goaltending duo in the playoffs with Marc-Andre Fleury and former Chicago netminder Robin Lehner. It remains unclear who will start Game 1, but there might not be a wrong choice.
Put it all together and you have a Golden Knights team that doesn't have many holes on their roster.
"They’re an excellent team," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Very good defensively, stingy defensively, but they’ve created a lot going the other way, too. We know we’re going to have to raise our level. It’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re excited about it."