The Blackhawks advance thanks to Corey Crawford. It is that simple. He came back into the NHL Qualifying Round discussion near the end of the training camp after recovering from COVID-19. His announcement came just before the NHL 31 Man Roster was due. During his absence, the Chicago Blackhawks had several inexperienced goalies in camp while Crawford recovered. Things did not look good for the Blackhawks as they prepared for the Edmonton Oilers.
Chicago Blackhawks Advance Thanks to Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford’s last-minute announcement and participation in the last practices brightened the picture a bit, but there were still several questions remaining. Could he recover his mid-season form where he stood out playing in goal? Could he physically stand the grind of a five games series if it went the distance? Would his stamina remain solid if his team miraculously advanced over the more talented Oilers? Due to his recovery, goaltending was the number one key in our qualifying series preview. That as well as offence and special teams were highlighted as keys to the potentially very entertaining series.
The veteran Blackhawks goalie came back late in the final stage of the NHL Camp. His appearance was welcomed by the Blackhawks’ faithful as well as his teammates. The two time Stanley Cup-winning goalie was touted by his mates as the one person who would be able to tend the goal as well as during the season despite being out due to COVID-19. They all put on strong faces when questioned by the media about Crawford. Here’s more on that from Carter Baum from Blackhawks.com who writes:
“Give ‘Crow’ credit, he’s always risen to the occasion when he’s gotten in tight spots or when he’s been hurt, he comes back and plays great,” Jonathan Toews added Wednesday. “I laugh because the amount of preparation that a guy like me needs to go play at my best as opposed to a guy like ‘Crow’ who can just hop in there, that’s almost the expectation for him. And at the same time it’s not really fair … It’s not fair to put that level of pressure on him.”
And put pressure on the Blackhawks’ number one goalie they did.
Chicago Blackhawks Advance over McDavid’s Efforts
Connor McDavid attempted to carry the load for the Oilers as best he could. He was outstanding in the series and dominated stretches of the games trying to will his team into the next round. In our last piece, we featured that the Blackhawks would have to slow down McDavid to have any chance in the series. They appeared to do just that in Game Three and Game Four. Listed below are his stats for each game:
McDavid Stat Line
- Opener – 1 Goal 2 Assists
- Game Two Rebound – 3 Goals 0 Assists
- Game Three Loss- 1 Goal 0 Assists
- Clincher – 0 goals 2 assists
His stats are incredible and prove he is certainly one of the top players in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Oilers, he was unable to push them past the overachieving Blackhawks as the series wore on. Game One is probably the biggest disappointment for him and his team. Losing the first game dealt the Oilers a blow they could not overcome. The Blackhawks seized the momentum of the series despite the superiority of their opponent.
Game By Game
The Blackhawks and Oilers took turns dominating the other during the series early on. Listed below are the highlights of each game.
Game One saw the Blackhawks dominating the play and winning 6-4. Calder Finalist Dominik Kubalik lit up the Oilers for two goals and three assists. The Blackhawks also outshot the Oilers 42-29 and chased Mike Smith from the net midway through the game. His replacement Mikko Koskinen did better and kept the net the rest of the series. Turnovers were also huge in this game as the Oilers committed 17 to the Blackhawks eight. The Blackhawks played focused and were intent on maintaining pressure on Edmonton’s defence who struggled at times. On the Blackhawks’ side of the ice, Crawford played outstanding and did not show any rust in the net despite giving up four goals.
The Oilers came out fast in Game Two with McDavid scoring 19 seconds into the game. That was a bad sign for the Blackhawks and would be the first of many highlights for #97 as he led his team to a 6-3 victory. In this game, the Blackhawks looked off and failed to handle the Oilers’ forecheck most of the game. Corey Crawford was holding down the fort as best he could as his team’s offence struggled compared to the first game. The Oilers had 19 more turnovers but managed to block 22 of Chicago’s shots at the net. Mikko Koskinen had an easier night compare to Crawford who watched his defence corps get outplayed all game.
Game Three found a tight duel to open the first period. The Blackhawks managed to avoid the Oilers’ quick start in this game and scored first midway through the first period. Olli Maatta of all people found the back of the net to surprise the Oilers. His goal set the tone for the night as the Blackhawks managed to get their shots through and avoid the Oiler’s efforts to block them. Koskinen was screened on several of the scores as Chicago found their net-front presence for once. The Blackhawks managed to come back from a 3-2 deficit in the third period with two goals by Matthew Highmore and Jonathan Toews. Highmore’s deflection to tie the game appeared to take the life out of the Oilers who struggled offensively the rest of the third. This game also saw both teams return to earth with their red-hot power-plays only scoring once each.
The Chicago Blackhawks advance over the Oilers was a possibility in Game Four but nobody expected them to actually pull it off. The Oilers put 45 shots on goal against Corey Crawford who was a wall in net. The key was holding McDavid to only two points and keeping NHL scoring leader Leon Draisaitl pointless on the night. Neither team scored on the power play which was incredible considering how well both teams had been the first three games. The Blackhawks even managed to kill off a five-minute major penalty against Alex DeBrincat in Game Four. Special teams were potentially a series breaker but the Blackhawks held their own in the clincher.
Goaltending we covered earlier, but what can be said about the heroic efforts of Corey Crawford? There is no way the Chicago Blackhawks advance without a herculean effort by Crawford. The veteran netminder is in the last year of his contract and will be a free agent once the season concludes. Despite his uncertain future with the Blackhawks, Crawford stepped up in a huge way for his teammates. Coming off of a battle with COVID-19, he played his heart out and led the way. Will general manager Stan Bowman make an offer to “Crow” or let him walk? Chances are Corey Crawford will be tending the net for another team next season if he decides to keep playing. Sadly, Bowman has painted himself into another corner with the salary cap and will have some difficult choices to make with his roster. Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik are both restricted free agents and need to be signed.
This topic had disaster written all over it for the Blackhawks. The Oilers power-play was number one last season and their penalty killing was number two. The Blackhawks’ anemic power-play unit almost cost them in Game Three going 1-6 on the night. After three games, they were 4-16 which was very respectable. The Oilers were tearing it up after three games and were 5-12. Overall for the series the dynamic Oilers power play was 5-17 and the Blackhawks were 4-18. Special teams had a big impact on the series, especially the Blackhawks penalty-killing unit.
Moving On After Chicago Blackhawks Advance
The Chicago Blackhawks snuck into the Qualifying Series thanks to the NHL Return To Play expanding the teams who were eligible. This should have been the third season in a row without a playoff appearance by the Original Six Team. Their ability to win their first playoff series since 2015 is a tribute to their free-agent goalie who carried them through. Another factor that helped the team was the veteran presence brought by their remaining Stanley Cup-winning corps. Their experience had to help settle down the youngest roster in the postseason, many of which had never played a game beyond the regular season. Despite the Oilers having the superior roster and stats, the Blackhawks prevailed. Will they be able to make a deep run? The Blackhawks faithful certainly hope so and will be watching them in the next round. And Last Word On Hockey will be there to cover it for you!