For those who stayed up late to watch Game 3 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night, you were in for a treat. The Blackhawks were losing 3-2 towards the end of the third period, but came back to score the equalizer and then the game-winning goal in the waning minutes. They now have a 2-1 advantage in the series and head into Game 4 Friday night with an opportunity to clinch. Let’s get to all our news and updates.
The Caggiula Controversy
Forward Drake Caggiula missed Game 2, as he was suspended for a high hit in Game 1 to Oilers’ Tyler Ennis. There’s always controversy when it comes to determining whether a hit is clean or dirty. Caggiula himself acknowledged both sides of the situation.
He indicated his main objective during his hearing with the Department of Player Safety was to understand the standard around the league. As he told reporters,
I think what you can ask for is consistency around the league and make sure that it’s the same for everybody. It was a one-game suspension, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I respect the decision and I totally respect the fact we want to protect players’ heads and safety…The consistency thing is what we’re all looking for as players. We just want to know what the standard is. I know what the standard is now, and I have no issue with it.
Kudos to Caggiula for taking ownership for his actions. I’m sure with his concussion issues he understands how important it is to protect the players. But in this writer’s opinion the league still needs to work on their consistency. It’s hard to understand how Caggiula got a suspension when Vegas Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves did not receive any disciplinary action for this hit to Arizona Coyotes’ Nick Schmaltz.
It turns out Caggiula’s suspension might have been a sort of blessing in disguise for the Blackhawks. With Caggiula out John Quenneville drew in, but the Blackhawks fell behind early in Game 2. This forced head coach Jeremy Colliton to shorten his bench. Quenneville only saw 5:39 minutes of ice time, while Patrick Kane double-shifted on the third line with Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach.
The trio ended up finding some immediate chemistry. They were by far the best line for the Blackhawks, on the ice for all three of the team’s goals in the 6-3 loss. Colliton had such confidence in them he decided to keep them together for Game 3, making them the new second line while Dylan Strome, Alex Nylander, and Caggiula slid down to the third line.
Dach, especially, was given more responsibility; and he thrived. He recorded 15:20 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, 6:14 on the power play, and 1:45 another on the penalty kill. His total 23:41 TOI was a team-high among all forwards. Yes, it was higher than Kane’s 22:36 minutes.
Dach has registered at least one point (four assists in all) in each of the three games so far in this qualifying series. This puts him in the same category as Eddie Olczyk in his rookie season.
What’s especially impressive is Dach is also doing all the little things right. He’s stripping pucks, he’s getting to the net and providing screens, he’s playing physical. He’s simply playing a confident, well-rounded game and becoming an impact player right before our very eyes. And he’s only 19 years old. The future looks bright for this youngster and for the Blackhawks.
Blackhawks’ Depth Comes Through
The Blackhawks haven’t exactly been known for their depth this season, or for the past few seasons for that matter. Which is why they were the last team to get into the 24-team playoff format, and why they weren’t favored to win this series against the Oilers.
But here they are, up 2-1 in the qualifying round and on the cusp of clinching. Sure, Jonathan Toews boasts four goals and five points. Kane’s contributed a goal and three assists. Rookie Dominik Kubalik has lived up to his top line role with two goals and three assists. Veteran Duncan Keith has three assists.
But the superstars simply can’t do all the heavy lifting. So it’s awfully refreshing to see some contributions from the depth players. Who would’ve thought third-pairing defenseman Olli Maatta would have two goals and two assists through three games?! His partner Slater Koekkoek has added a goal and two assists. And fourth line winger Matthew Highmore earned himself a goal and an assist in Wednesday’s contest.
It’s these kinds of contributions that will be needed for the Blackhawks to get over the hump and win this series.
Goaltender Corey Crawford just never seems to get the credit he deserves. Lost in the come-from-behind win and goals from unlikely sources on Wednesday, Crawford quietly reached a milestone of his own.
Among active goalies, only Marc-Andre Fleury (78) and Henrik Lundqvist (61) have more wins then Crawford. Tuukka Rask also has 50 wins.
It’s been another rough road for Crawford, who just recovered from COVID-19 and had minimal time to prepare himself for this campaign. But he’s looked more comfortable in the crease each game. Let’s hope he can continue adding to his playoff victories in the next few days and weeks!
Huge Game 4
The Blackhawks “host” the Oilers this Friday night at 5:45 Central Time for the fourth game of this series. Like Game 3, they will suit up in the Oilers’ home dressing room and have the benefit of last change.
Related – Can the Blackhawks Beat the Oilers?
Winning this game would obviously be really big. Allowing the Oilers to force a Game 5 would only give them the momentum in the series, and home ice advantage in a win-or-go-home scenario.
Can the Blackhawks get this done? Let’s turn to Coach Colliton for some insight. Here’s his assessment of what they did right in Game 3.
We showed a lot of character to stick with it. We were pretty solid defensively, did a good job limiting their transition, and we found a way to score some dirty goals. We’ll enjoy it tonight, then on to the next one.
He further added, “Hopefully we’ve learned a lesson from our approach in Game 2. It’s not just going to happen.”
Nope, it’s not just going to happen. The Blackhawks will need to dig deep, but they’ve already shown they have the capacity to win. It’s just a matter of executing it.