The Chicago Blackhawks were on a high when they beat the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five Qualifying Round series. Less than a week later, they’re singing a completely different tune. They’re now one game away from being swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks have been consistent with having the same things contribute to all of their losses in this series. Obviously, their 2-1 loss in Game 3 was no exception. Here are some takeaways of what has transpired so far:
We all know how important strong goaltending is for playoff teams. This series has been new territory for goaltender Corey Crawford. During this past decade, fans have witnessed nothing but dominance from him. However, in this series, that hasn’t always been the case.
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His play shifts from shaky to solid. There seems to be a pattern where he lets in a soft, first goal. Afterward, he remains headstrong. For example, in Game 3, Vegas’ center William Karlsson scored a short-handed goal less than five minutes into the game that was considered questionable. After that, Crawford became that brick wall that everyone recognizes. He stopped 25 of 27 shots on the night.
Crawford has been through a lot. With being diagnosed with COVID-19 and having to miss most of training camp, this surely isn’t easy for him. To top it off, the team in front of him hasn’t always made his job easy either. His save percentage (SV%) is .900 in three games versus Vegas. The good news is that his SV% has been rising game-by-game.
Special Teams Play
The Blackhawks’ power play is…something. They were ranked 28th in the league and it shows. In three games, the Blackhawks have had eight power plays. They only converted on one. That goal came from left wing Dominik Kubalik in Game 2.
Vegas has not converted on any of its six power plays in this series. Kudos to the Blackhawks’ penalty kill on that one. They’re on a roll recently having killed 10-straight penalties. The one big positive from the team.
Overall, this just shows how imperative special teams are in the playoffs. If The Blackhawks would have converted on just one of their four power plays in Game 3, then it could have been a completely different game. They could have tied the game early at 1-1, and then maybe the outcome would have been different. If they can’t figure out how to convert on the power play in Game 4, then they will be in tremendous trouble.
For reference, with the Edmonton series and Vegas combined, Chicago has had 26 power plays and only four goals to show for it.
The one part of the Blackhawks’ team that isn’t flawed is their offense. One reason why Vegas has been successful thus far is that they have been able to keep Chicago’s goal-scorers off the board. Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad are goalless in this series. In fact, they have just five goals in three games. They haven’t really had many shots on goal either. 20 shots in Game 1, 25 shots in Game 2, and 27 shots in Game 3.
However, Game 3’s lack of offense wasn’t from a lack of trying. DeBrincat had a team-high eight shots on goal. Center Kirby Dach had the second-most with four. Kane had a wide-open net, with Vegas’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury out of position, and he missed. It was the perfect storm.
The effort was there, the results were not. The Blackhawks’ lone goal came from defenseman Olli Maatta in the third period.
The margin for error in the playoffs is already very thin. The margin for error against the Golden Knights, however, seems like it’s non-existent. Every little mistake the Blackhawks have made so far, the Golden Knights seemingly have taken advantage of it. Defenseman Duncan Keith turned the puck over at the blue line during the Blackhawks power play in the first period.
That resulted in the short-handed goal by Karlsson. Defenseman Adam Boqvist mishandled the puck in the second period that led to an odd-man rush and the Golden Knights’ second goal by center Patrick Brown.
In general, I believe a big reason why Vegas is 3-0 is because of their great team chemistry. Their on-ice awareness of each other makes their decision making quick and effective. The problem is, the Blackhawks haven’t been able to disrupt that chemistry enough to find success. They’re not overly physical against Vegas and they don’t sustain pressure on them. If Chicago does put pressure on them, Vegas quickly flips the pressure back on the Blackhawks.
Moreover, the Golden Knights have been able to do a lot of damage to Chicago’s chemistry. Limiting the Blackhawks’ chances and taking advantage of their defensive breakdowns has been huge for them.
For the Blackhawks, everything that could possibly go wrong for them is going wrong. The areas that they weren’t having issues with, offense and goaltending, has become an issue. Those two aspects haven’t been able to uplift their defense, which has been their Achilles heel all season long.
Lastly, the Blackhawks have run into hot goalies. The likes of Fleury and Robin Lehner have been great for the Golden Knights, as expected. It’s all playing right into Vegas’ favor right now. This is what Toews had to say after Game 3’s loss:
I hope that the Blackhawks come out hard in Game 4 as they did in Game 3. Hopefully, that effort will result in some goals for them. With Toews’ belief about better puck luck, I hope he is proven right. If not, their season will be over. But, it’s not over till it’s over. Onto Game 4 we go.