Now that the Blackhawks have qualified for the playoffs we are free to say the truth about the series against Edmonton...that wasn't the playoffs. Edmonton had an all-time great power play in the regular season. They have two spectacular players and...that is about it. The Oilers were an extremely flawed team. It's why I bet the Hawks in the series +140. I like our guys. I like our goalie. I like our chances. Now it gets real. This is a playoff opponent. This is a 7 game series. This is when the men are separated from the boys. Vegas is awesome and now we will get to see wha the Blackhawks are all about per Kirby Dach
Not here just to be here. Fucking LOVE it. That's the attitude that they need. The Blackhawks aren't conceding one god damn inch against the Golden Knights. They don't care what oddsmakers, anonymous scouts, and media member "experts" say. They're going to show up and compete because they fucking can. Let's break it down.
We will start with a scouting report from Ivory Christian of Friday Night Lights
Vegas is big
Plus they're fast
There's no getting around it. In my eyes and on paper Vegas is about as good as it gets. They're seemingly built for the playoffs. They're got speed up and down their wings. They have good two-way centers. They have D that take away space and are difficult to forecheck. They're big. They're a little nasty. They have tremendous depth. They've got goaltending. They're disciplined. They create offense in all sorts of different ways. The Golden Knights went undefeated in the round robin and now they're getting Max Paccioretty back into the lineup. They honestly seem perfect. Look at some of this data from our friend Mike Kelly of The Point Hockey
--Shot attempts from the slot (25.4) NHL Rank: 1st
--Shots on goal from the slot (15.1) NHL Rank: 1st
--Expected goals for per 60 minutes (2.81) NHL Rank: 1st
--Scoring chances for per 60 minutes (31.1) NHL Rank: 1st
--High-danger chances for per 60 minutes (12.7) NHL Rank 1st
The Blackhawks, conversely, finished DEAD FUCKING LAST in a ton of these categories. That's why you see so many people talking about a short series. Experts saying that the Blackhawks simply don't matchup. They make it seem like the Hawks shouldn't even show up. Here is what I say to them…
Here is why I want to take all of these regular season stats where the Blackhawks are dead last and throw them straight in the trash….those stats were compiled so long ago that they were about a different team. This team, this group, playing together in the Bubble is NOT that team we saw in October, November, December. We have seen tremendous growth from Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik. It is a team that has found a shutdown d-pairing with de Haan and Murphy. The PP is no longer a disgusting mess and they've got Corey fucking Crawford in net. There is a LOT to like about this team. We always use the expression "non-zero chance" when talking about our teams in Chicago on Redline Radio. Well the Blackhawks have a non-zero chance at pulling an upset here. The Hawks have enough going for them that anything is possible.
Keys to the series:
1) "Best Players Have To Be Your Best Players
Jonathan Toews is a DOMINANT two-way player and people around the country forgot it. He was born for the playoffs when good habits, work rate, and intensity matter the most and we saw it against Edmonton. He was a force all over the ice and in every situation. When the Blackhawks needed one goal to stick a dagger in McDavid's heart it was Toews who had it. Center is probably the one position where the Blackhawks might have an advantage and it's because Toews is the best center in the series and if you try to say that William Karlsson is better I will straight up fight you. Toews needs to be dominant shift in shift out, game in game out, all day off camera every way for the Hawks to win and I think he will.
I've seen people say that Patrick Kane was "quiet" in the opening round. Counter point…shut up, and you're an idiot. Kane had a point per game average in the qualifying round against Edmonton. Which somehow is a little low for him but he was still an impact player. He was great keeping possession. He carried the mail and had a million successful entries. He looked dangerous out there. He just didn't score in game 4 and he only had one goal in the series. That doesn't mean he was bad or "quiet" by any stretch. What it likely means is that he is due and that Vegas should be worried. We saw Kirby Dach step up big time. Debrincat looked more like himself last week than he did all of the regular season. I expect that line to be dangerous and start cooking. Kane will not be held down in this series.
Duncan Keith played 28:03 in game 4 against Edmonton. He never got tired. He is going to be in for a bigger challenge against bigger and meaner bodies in this series. There's nobody I'd rather go to battle with than #2. He's up for any challenge and all comers. Play him 28+ every night and then have 44+5 play the rest.
2)Crawford Has To Be Better Than Robin Lehner
I don't know who needs to hear this right now, but FUCK Robin Lehner. That guy needs to learn when to just shut up. I love a good quote as much as the next guy, but he pissed me off after he got traded with his admission that he effectively quit on the team mentally because he was frustrated with his contract situation
Listen, bud. Crawford was better than you. That is why he played more down the stretch. I am HUGE grudge guy and I am holding one against Lehner for those comments. Even if Lehner was still on the Hawks I would roll with Crawford in this series and any series. I know exactly how good Lehner is. You can debate that he is the more talented goalie. What you can't debate is who you should trust more. I trust Crow. He's a guy who is there for his team. Who shows up when it matters most as always has. He got better and better as the series went along against Edmonton and looked like vintage Corey when they need him to slam the door on McDavid. I expect Crawford to be better than Lehner. The Hawks will need him to be elite because he will be tested heavily. I love my guys, he's one of my guys. Lehner isn't. Crawford will need to steal a game or two and the Hawks will need to make Lehner's life hell. Get in his kitchen. Take away his eyes. Give him a few whacks. The Hawks did a great job of involving their dmen in the offense as outlets and shooters against EDM. Do that again. Get to the net. Make him scramble around.
3) Puck Management
Vegas is a deadly team. They're going to create chances. The Blackhawks can't make it easier on them by turning pucks over. Everything has to be simple and safe. That was a good formula against Edmonton. Live to fight another day because on that next day Toews and Kane will deliver. The whole team needs to play the way de Haan and Murphy do defensively. Offensively, it'll be really important for the Blackhawks to have controlled entries instead of dumps. The Vegas D can really skate, retrieve, and move pucks out. Nate Schmidt can fucking fly. Shea Theodore is a very good skater and puck mover. Dumping it in on guys like that and trying to win races is going to be tough. Remember the Nashville series in 2017? The Preds D just won every race and threw it off the glass and out and they had chances going back at our net. I don't want history to repeat itself. The Hawks need to carry it in as much as possible and when they can't, be particular about where the dumps go. Soft areas on the half wall, cross corner, give your wingers a chance to make a play. Attention to detail here will be huge.
4) Depth Guys Have To Produce
The Blackhawks got solid play out of their 4th line against Edmonton. Maatta and Koekkoek did their job as well. The only two guys that were largely dogs were Strome and Nylander. That can't happen against Vegas. They're such a tough team to match up with, but I like the Blackhawks top 6 as much as any top 6. Kubalik-Toews-Saad and Debrincat-Dach-Kane can hang in there with the best of them. The 4th line isn't easy to play against. It's the 3rd line with Cags-Strome-Nylander that gets worked and or stapled to the bench. The have talent. Those two young guys need to be a part of the winning equation here. It is hard to envision them winning this without them producing and having a BIG and consistent effort.
That's it. That is the path. Maybe be good on special teams too. This comes down to effort, being smart, and getting great goaltending. If the Blackhawks get all three of those things and get them throughout the lineup they have a really good chance to hang. I love my guys. I expect Dach to put pucks on net instead of deferring. I expect Patrick Kane to be fucking lethal. I expect Toews, Kubalik, and Saad to make life a living hell for Vegas and make them play 200ft from their net. I am choosing to believe in this group because if you don't believe then why should we even stay up late? The playoffs are rare and they are a gift, especially this year. This team is dangerous. They're not here to just be here. The Hawks are here to fuck shit up. Let's roll. Join or Die right now. See you in an hour and then DEEP into the night.