Blackhawks vs. Oilers: 3 Things to Watch in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers
By Dylan Terry
Throughout the 2019-20 NHL Season, the Chicago Blackhawks could accurately be described as an emotional roller coaster. After a few months off, the Blackhawks will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The last time the Chicago Blackhawks were in the postseason, everything seemed as if it had collapsed. The top-seeded Hawks were swept in the first round in only four games by the Nashville Predators, who had just barely squeaked their way into the postseason. The goal-scoring dried up, the defense was lackluster, and the wheels just simply came off. The series was quite frankly a disaster.
Now over three years later, the Blackhawks are ready to make their return to the playoffs with some vengeance. Prior to the global pandemic, Chicago was playing some of the best hockey that they had played all season. They had won 5 out of their last 7 games, which included three impressive victories over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, and their Stanley Cup Qualifier opponent, the Edmonton Oilers.
It will be interesting to see if the Hawks can use that momentum and the four-month break from play to excel in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Oilers feature a squad of very young, but very talented forwards. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have absolutely torched the NHL this season, tallying the most points in the entire league with 95 and 110 respectively. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has also quietly had a very impressive campaign, as he crossed the 60 point plateau for the second consecutive season.
Defensively, the Oilers feature many big bodies that have a knack for shot-blocking. Their defensive core only features two players under 6’3″, so the Hawks will have to rely on their speed and skill in order to succeed. Oscar Klefbom led the league in blocked shots with 180, and Darnell Nurse was also 9th in the league, as he tallied 141 of his own. Another big body the Hawks will have to be on the lookout for is 6’3″ forward Zack Kassian. Kassian thrives on dishing out humungous hits, as he registered 157 hits this season. He has a whopping 1,101 hits in only 525 games played during his NHL career.
If the Oilers do have one potential weak spot, it comes between the pipes. Journeyman Mike Smith joined the orange and blue this season, and his numbers have not been the greatest since his arrival. He currently has a GAA of 2.95 and a SV% of only .902. Mikko Koskinen is the other option in net for Edmonton, and he currently boasts a GAA of 2.75 and a SV% of .917.
The upcoming series has many things to be on the lookout for and many what-ifs, as the Hawks make their first playoff appearance since that miserable exit in 2017. Here are three things to watch for in the upcoming series against the Oilers: