There weren't a lot of bright spots in the Blackhawks' 6-3 Game 2 loss to the Oilers at Edmonton in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Monday night, but Hawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek's game was one of them.
Koekkoek, 26, and his defensive partner Olli Maatta were two of just four Chicago players to log a positive +/- rating in Monday's postseason contest. Koekkoek had a goal and an assist and Maatta scored the game-tying goal for Chicago, making it 3-3 at 15:13 of the second period.
Koekkoek cuts Oilers’ lead to 3-2. DeBrincat’s 2nd assist of the night.pic.twitter.com/muQGycTFs1— Scott King (@ScottKingMedia) August 4, 2020
Koekkoek's goal cut the Oilers' lead to 3-2 at 4:22 of the second.
"Big goal for us," said Patrick Kane, who scored his first 2020 postseason goal on Monday in the first period, of Koekkoek's marker. "To find that little pocket there, Brinksy (Alex DeBrincat) makes a nice pass and he had a nice shot. He had a good, strong game for us, offensively chipping in. He had a couple nice shots from the point as well. Defensively he was taking up a lot of time and space.
"When he was inserted into the lineup this year, he did a good job with that and made the coaches see that he's capable of being a good defenseman for us and he's been a big part of our defense ever since he got in. He did that again tonight and he's a tough guy to play against, so he's been good for us."
Slater also iniated the play that led to Kane's goal by carrying the puck into the Oilers' zone. He got credited with a secondary assit on the tally.
Koekkoek wouldn't talk up his game or goal but as Kane noticed, it was an important one and an example of how valuable the D-man can be for the Hawks in the Oilers series and in the future.
"I think it was just a nice play by Cat," a humble Koekkoek said after Game 2. "I’m coming through the slot there, if you watch the games, you could have a couple of those per game. Nothing different than what I’ve been doing. Cat made a nice pass and I was lucky enough to make a nice shot and finish it off."
The Blackhawks acquired Koekkoek in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in January of 2019. Until injuries on the blue line had him seeing more ice time during the 2019-20 regular season, he had been the odd man out among Chicago's D-men.
He becomes a restricted free agent after this year. If Koekkoek keeps playing the way he did on Monday, it would be in the Hawks' best interest to figure out how to keep him.