Our second NHL Playoff qualifying round preview takes us out west, as we have the 5th seeded Edmonton Oilers going up against the 12th seeded Chicago Blackhawks. This is one of the more interesting matchups that we might not of had the chance to see without the new format. We have a young an upcoming team in the Oilers going up against a former dynasty in the Hawks.
The bottom teams in the west are the ones that benefitted most from this new playoff format. The Blackhawks were sitting in last place in the Central division and 8 points out of a playoff spot before the pause. Now, they have a chance to upset one of the better teams in the western conference.
I’m actually really excited about this series. The amount of talent between these two teams should make for an exciting first round matchup.
These two teams met three times this season and shockingly the Blackhawks won 2 of the 3 games. All of the games were pretty tightly contested and I expect the playoff series to be the same. The teams split the first two meetings, with the Blackhawks winning 3-1 back in October and the Oilers winning 5-3 in February. The third and final meeting took place a month later and the Blackhawks picked up a 4-3 win in Chicago.
Similar to the Canadiens, the Blackhawks shouldn’t be here but they are. They struggled most of the year and caught a huge break from Corona as they will now have a shot at the Stanley Cup. The crazier thing is they could be a dark horse to make a decent run once play resumes. While their regular season wasn’t going all that great, they still had some bright spots. Already having two established superstars in Kane and Toews, they were looking for more help up front. They got that this season from the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Dominik Kubalik. They are going to need contributions from all of these guys if they want to have a chance at making it past the Oilers. Being one of the younger teams could greatly benefit them after the long layoff.
Corey Crawford is a two time Stanley Cup Champion, but his age is starting to catch up with him. At 35, he isn’t the goalie he used to be and has struggled the last few seasons. One of the biggest issues has been his health, as he’s had several injuries over the last couple of seasons and it has really diminished his play. With all of that being said, he’s still a two time Stanley Cup Champion and has had more than enough time to recover from the injuries he was dealing with. If the Blackhawks want to have a chance at making a run, they will need Crawford to get back to his old ways and steal some games because their defense isn’t what it used to be.
Speaking of defense…That has been the downfall for the Blackhawks all season. What was once one of the top defensive cores in the league has now turned into one of the worst. Duncan Keith is old, Brent Sebrook is on IR, and the rest of them are just average or inexperienced. They will have a tough task at trying to stop two of the best players in the league in McDavid and Draisaitl. The Blackhawks will really need for their young guys like Adam Boqvist and Slater Koekkoek to step up and have an impact in this series.
Edmonton Oilers(37-25-9, 83Pts)
The Oilers have been one of the top Western conference teams all season long, being led by Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. When you have two guys that put up 207 combined points, you’re more than likely going to be successful. I mean seriously, both of these guys played out of their minds this season and they didn’t even get to play the full 82 games. McDavid finished with 34 goals and 63 assist, while Draisaitl finished with 43 goals and 67 assist. Insane stats and either one of these guys could’ve won the MVP.
While those two carried the load for the Oilers, they have some solid depth as well. Guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zack Kassain, and James Neal all provided some key offense to help get the Oilers to where they are. Keep in mind they traded for Andreas Athanasiou who will also add more depth to their lineup. The Oilers talented forwards will need to take advantage of the young Blackhawks defense in order to get past the qualifying round.
On the backend, the defense is anchored by Darnell Nurse, Oskar Klefbom, and Adam Larsson. While it may not be their biggest strength, these three guys alone should be able to contain the Blackhawks. If Nurse can use his physical play to wear down guys like Kane and Debrincat then that will slow down the Hawks offense. Being able to stop the Hawks top six will be a huge factor.
Goaltending has been one of the surprises for the Oilers as more than likely it will be Mikko Koskinen who gets the nod over Mike Smith. Both guys have played well this season, but Koskinen has been the more consistent of the two. The one advantage Smith has is the playoff experience, but to me that doesn’t matter in this situation. For as well as the defense is going to have to play, the Oilers need to be able to rely on their goalie to keep the pucks out of the net if they want to avoid the upset.
I don’t hate the Hawks in this series I really don’t. But, I’m smart enough to not bet against McJesus(Connor McDavid) as he has proven time and time again he is the best player in the world. Look for this to be a breakout series for him solidifying his spot as the new face of the NHL. I think he and the rest of the Oilers will be too much for the Blackhawks to handle and the Oilers will move on to the next round.