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.”