The Chicago Blackhawks dispatched the Edmonton Oilers on Friday to become the second 12-seed to advance out of the Qualifying Round. They found out who they will meet in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Saturday. The Blackhawks may have to face a former teammate, but they are not in the mood to talk about it. Finally, a goaltending prospect figures out where he is going to start the 2020-21 season.
Next Up: Vegas Golden Knights
We learned over the weekend who the Blackhawks will play in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Thanks to their overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday afternoon, the Golden Knights earned the top seed in the Western Conference and will take on the Blackhawks.
There is not a whole lot of history between these two teams with the Golden Knights joining the NHL in 2017. This will the first postseason meeting between these two squads. The Blackhawks have not had a ton of success against them going 1-6-2 in their all-time regular-season series.
The Blackhawks earned three points versus the Golden Knights this season; they lost 2-1 in a shootout on Oct. 22, beat them 5-3 on Nov. 13 and were defeated 5-1 in their final meeting on Dec. 10. Kirby Dach led the way with two goals for the Blackhawks, including the first of his NHL career.
Dylan Strome had a goal and three assists to lead all players in the series with four points. William Karlsson is the only member of the Golden Knights to score two goals versus the Blackhawks and he led his team with three points.
Corey Crawford started the second two games of the series in goal. He gave up eight goals on 79 shots for a .899 save percentage (SV%) and 4.01 goals-against average (GAA). We still don’t know who will be the starting goaltender for the Golden Knights. It could be Marc-Andre Fleury or former Blackhawk Robin Lehner. Fleury started all three regular-season games and posted a .920 SV% and 2.29 GAA.
The Golden Knights received some good news as Max Pacioretty landed in the bubble over the weekend. Head coach Pete DeBoer said that he expects the veteran winger to play in Game 1. He scored a goal in the regular-season series and has two goals and 11 points in 18 career games versus the Blackhawks.
Vegas is a much deeper team than the Oilers. Instead of having to worry about shutting down two dynamic players, they have three lines that can score on you and a fourth-line that takes pleasure in playing a physical and heavy game. They have a much better defensive corps featuring the likes of Alec Martinez, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore. The Golden Knights are a puck-possession machine so the Blackhawks will likely have to play more defense at 5-on-5 than did in the previous series.
Mums the Word on Lehner
While no official decision has been made on the Golden Knights’ starting goaltender, there is a really good chance the Blackhawks will face their former teammate. Lehner started two out of the three round-robin games, winning them both.
Lehner played 33 games for the Blackhawks before being dealt to Vegas at the trade deadline. He went 16-10-5 with a .918 SV% and 3.01 GAA. He became very popular within the locker room and among Blackhawks fans, however, nobody was in a big hurry to discuss their former teammate on Sunday.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton rarely shows emotion during his meetings with the media, but he seemed flustered when asked back-to-back questions about Lehner.
“Listen, he was a big part of our team when he was here,” he said after just answering a question on the ex-Blackhawks netminder. “But at the same time, it’s over. Our total focus is on beating Vegas, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.”
Strome was also asked about facing Lehner during his press conference on Sunday afternoon.
“He’s a part of their team and he’s a good player, but we’ve got a lot to worry about,” Strome politely answered. “We’ll do our best to obviously score on him, but like I said, our main focus is on Vegas and the team as a whole.”
Strome couldn’t be more correct with that last statement. The Golden Knights can beat you in many different ways, so who is starting in goal is just one item and a lengthy list of concerns.
Nalimov Loaned to Red Star
In non-playoff news, word came down Sunday morning that goaltending prospect Ivan Nalimov will start his 2020-21 season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). According to Brandon Cain of NHL.com, Nalimov signed a try-out contract with the Kunlun Red Star.
Nalimov was originally drafted by the Blackhawks in the sixth round (179th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He has played in the KHL since 2014 with seven different teams, the most recent being HK Sochi. He has a .913 SV% and 2.54 GAA in 152 career games.
On March 7, Nalimov signed a professional try-out contract with the Rockford IceHogs. Unfortunately, he finally made the trek to North America at the worst possible time. He never saw any game action as the IceHogs played their final game of the season on March 8. It is unknown if he plans to come back to the Blackhawks organization once training camp opens in December.
This week will be a fun one. The Blackhawks have not been in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2017. Whether this run lasts four games or four rounds, we should just enjoy the ride. There is plenty of time to debate about the front office, coaching and roster decisions later.