The Chicago Blackhawks proved the old adage once again that anything can and often does happen during the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Playoffs. They eliminated the high-octane better-ranked Edmonton Oilers in four games.
The Blackhawks also proved that the veteran presence of recent Stanley Cup champions Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Corey Crawford is a key ingredient to success.
Goaltender Corey Crawford, a late addition to camp, needed a few games to find his feet, but once he did, during Game 4, he stoned the Oilers and stopped 43 of 45 shots.
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The consensus is that the Oilers did not play strong enough on the puck and did not play the 200-foot game as required to achieve success during the intense post-season series.
Veteran Experience Was the Difference Maker
“You know we were lucky with that first win. You get one win in the first round in a normal format and you feel like you can get 50 more, so it was nice to get that,” said Toews, during the post-game media scrum. “We didn’t really have an answer for their powerplay until tonight really. Our penalty kill came up big, Crow came up big, so it was nice to finish that one off.”
Toews set up Dominik Kubalik for the game-winner. The 24-year-old Plzen, Czech native dropped to one knee and fired the puck over the right shoulder of Mikko Koskinen. If the go-ahead goal was not a backbreaker, then when the Oilers took a too many men penalty with 2:03 remaining on the clock – the penalty would be. Down a goal, Koskinen was skating to the bench for the extra attacker. With the Oilers all over the Blackhawks for most of the period, it seemed like they could score at any time, instead, they were assessed the penalty. Connor McDavid hung his head on the bench.
Oilers’ Andreas Athanasiou had multiple opportunities to score, but couldn’t. At a time when the first line needed help – after carrying the team for the first three games – Athanasiou was not able to convert. Nor was defender Darnell Nurse, who, while in possession of the puck with seconds remaining on the clock almost casually fired the puck wide. While the Oilers’ depth issue is a bit of a misconception, Nurse and Athanasiou did nothing to dispel the naysayers.
Asked about coming in seeded 12th to the Oilers fifth ranking and getting an opportunity to compete Toews added, “We were pretty grateful to have a chance to play playoff hockey. We weren’t going to pass that up and we would make it as tough on the other team as possible. I think everyone bought in, so, when things were up in March, we were playing pretty good hockey. We picked up where we left off and I think we got four lines going. The boys are feeling pretty good right now, so it was nice to get a nice series win for our guys.”
Perhaps somewhere on the lower Mainland in Greater Vancouver, Blackhawks defender Brent Seabrook is regretting his decision to opt-out.
All Four Lines Rolled
On Kubalik’s nuclear performance. Toews said, “We have a lot of young guys who are excited to get the opportunity to prove what they can do. We got that from all over and good results from Highsy (Matthew Highmore) and Kuby (Kubalik) Kirby Dach was huge for us tonight.”
Regarding losing battles on the boards and the lack of team defense Leon Draisaitl said, “I mean, I don’t know how to answer. Obviously those were battles that were lost. We needed to tie up at least or win the battles, which we clearly did not do. It is just about little mistakes that cost us the game again.”
Regarding having several powerplays late in the game to tie it up, he added, “They did a good job obviously. They had adjusted. We still had our looks that we didn’t capitalize on. We definitely had enough chances to get back in the game.”
Perhaps Nurse said it best during the post-game media scrum. “[I am] Not happy at all. We all felt that we had more to give. We didn’t bring what was necessary to win. They have a good veteran team that played important roles on teams that have won cups. We didn’t bring enough to match it.”
Anything can and often does happen during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but at the end of the day, it was veteran Cup experience that when given an inch took a mile and ran with it. The Blackhawks smelled blood in the water and while being outplayed by a desperate Oilers team during the third period, the veteran Crawford – where the puck stops – kept Blackhawks in the game.