Blackhawks

Why Corey Crawford, Dominik Kubalik could decide Blackhawks-Oilers series

Why Corey Crawford, Dominik Kubalik could decide Blackhawks-Oilers series

With the NHL’s new 24-team playoff format, we know that the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers will face off in a best-of-five qualifying round. 

What we don’t know is when and where.

That gives us plenty of time to break down the matchup at length. Pundits around the league have already tabbed this series as one of the most exciting of the postseason — and one with great upset potential.

“They’ve got all the Hall of Famers that you’ve talked about, and you talk about the veteran guys being able to make a difference, that’s why I think Chicago can pose to be a very difficult matchup here,” NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes said on a recent panel.

We know that teams were against the idea of a shortened three-game play-in series, in part because of players like Patrick Kane, but a five-game series means that the players between the pipes could make the biggest difference. 

“How about Corey Crawford? With a little pause, a little rest, how about Corey Crawford in a short window coming in for Chicago and having a good first series against Edmonton,” E.J. Hradek said. “I think that matchup, when you think about it, you have Mike Smith, who is another veteran, and then you have Corey Crawford at the other end. 

“Corey Crawford could be in a position, if he’s hot and if he’s right, to steal a short series like that against the Edmonton Oilers.”

Crawford won both of his starts against the Oilers in the 2019-20 regular season, posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average. In the run-up to the NHL’s pause on March 12, Crawford won five of his last seven games, posting a sparkling .934 save percentage. 

“It will certainly be a fun series to watch. There will be a lot of star power and there will be a lot of pressure on the goaltenders because these two teams can score,” Hradek said. 

It’s easy to look at the big names that this series will feature, including Kane, Jonathan Toews, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (who Weekes tabbed as his league MVP). But often in the playoffs, it’s the goals that don’t show up on the highlight reels that make the biggest difference. 

“One thing I look for in the playoffs, too, is net-front players,” said Weekes. “I look at the Chicago Blackhawks and (Dominik) Kubalik coming in this year and playing as well as he has. Great find by Stan Bowman. 30 goals this season. Him being in front of the net certainly helps. 

“Why? You know that net-front area offensively is so critical.”

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Where Blackhawks’ chances stand without Corey Crawford

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Where Blackhawks’ chances stand without Corey Crawford

JJ Stankevitz, Charlie Roumeliotis and Russ Dorsey join Kap on a Tuesday edition of STL.

0:00 - Corey Crawford has been “unfit to play” so far at Blackhawks camp. Can the Blackhawks win a series if he can’t play? Plus, was the criticism about Jonathan Toews’ COVID-19 comments warranted?

4:30 - Testing delays continue to plague MLB’s restart. What are the chances every baseball team plays every game in 2020?

11:00 - NFL training camps are set to begin this weekend. Will the league start the season on time?

15:00 - ESPN’s Bill Barnell says the Bears have the 28th-best skill players group in the 32-team NFL. Is he right?

20:00 - The NBA extends the quarantine of a player for getting a food delivery. Is this a sign that the league’s strict bubble will work?

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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How Blackhawks embracing underdog status could work against Oilers

How Blackhawks embracing underdog status could work against Oilers

Ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 — due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Blackhawks had almost zero chance to be in the playoffs.

They sat at No. 12 in the Western Conference, six points out of a wild card spot with four teams to jump in 12 remaining regular season games.

Now that they'll be facing the Edmonton Oilers in a little over two weeks for a chance to make a run at the Stanley Cup again, they're going to embrace the challenge.

"It’s going to be a tough series against Edmonton," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said following the Hawks' first day of training camp leading up to the postseason on Monday. "They have two of the best players in the world - if not THE two best to players in the world in (Connor) McDavid and (Leon) Draisaitl. But it’s not just those two guys. There (are) other players on their team that are dangerous. They were ahead of us in the standings, so we know we’ve got our work cut out for us. But we’re excited to have this opportunity and show that we belong and we could make some noise as an underdog."

As an underdog, most of the pressure is off Chicago and on Edmonton. The West's No. 5 team at the time of the pause is not only the favorite to beat a team that wouldn't have normally been in the postseason in the Blackhawks, but they have the added expectation of winning as the home ice club with the series being played in Edmonton. 

In March, the Hawks realistically may have either been dwelling on why they came up short again or which golf courses they should hit up. Now, they're thinking about how they have nothing to lose in a postseason they're not supposed to be in, taking on a team they're not supposed to beat. 

"I think we match up pretty well," Hawks forward Brandon Saad said after Day 2 of camp on Tuesday. "It’s something we haven’t touched upon too much here at camp. It’s more about getting ready and focusing on what we can bring to the table. But I think everyone’s looked pretty good in camp for the most part with staying in shape and trying to take advantage of getting the touches and reps in. But they have a good team and I know it’s going to be a challenge for us. But I think for us, we’re confident as a group regardless of who we’re playing. Just focus on what we can do to have success."

After Day 2's practice, Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said the team will begin strategizing for the matchup shortly.

The Hawks finish up their Phase 3 training camp on Sunday, July 26 before traveling to Edmonton to take on the Oilers.

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