The Blackhawks will start their Stanley Cup Qualifiers series against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The series winner will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Blackhawks were last in the Central Division and No. 12 in the Western Conference when the NHL paused its season March 12 due to concerns about the coronavirus. The Oilers, on the other hand, were second in the Pacific Division and the last Western team not to qualify for the round robin between the top four seeds.
Who starts in net?
It’s unknown who will be the starting goalies. Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton and Oilers coach Dave Tippett each declined to name a starter Friday. Both teams used two goalies during their exhibition game victories this week.
Corey Crawford, who missed all but the final day of training camp after a positive COVID-19 test, made 11 saves in 30:06 before he exited in the second period of Chicago’s 4-0 exhibition win against the Blues on Wednesday. Malcolm Subban had 10 saves — two on the penalty kill — after replacing Crawford.
The Oilers’ options are Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. They shared the net almost evenly during the season. Smith was 19-12-6 with a 2.95 GAA and .902 save percentage in 39 games (37 starts), and Koskinen was 18-10-3 with a 2.75 GAA and .917 save percentage in 38 games (34 starts). Smith does have playoff experience in the NHL, while Koskinen does not.
Slowing down Draisaitl, McDavid
The Blackhawks need to contain Oilers centers Leon Draisailt and Connor McDavid, who finished first and second in the NHL scoring race, to win the series. Draisailt won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer with a career-high 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games. He’s also a Hart Trophy finalist. McDavid scored 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games.
In three games against Chicago this season, Draisaitl scored seven points (one goal, six assists) and McDavid was held without a point in two games. Draisaitl had an assist and McDavid scored two goals in Edmonton’s 4-1 exhibition win against the Flames on Tuesday.
There’s been plenty made of the Oilers’ special teams units leading up to this series. They boast the No. 1 power play (29.5 percent) and No. 2 penalty kill (84.4 percent). Draisaitl led the NHL with 45 power-play points, and McDavid was second with 44. Chicago was 4-for-7 on the penalty kill and 0-for-8 on the power play in the regular season against Edmonton.
The Blackhawks were 28th on the power play (15.2 percent) and substantially improved from last to eighth on the penalty kill (82.1 percent).
Seven Blackhawks players will make their postseason debuts, including forwards Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander and Dylan Strome and defensemen Adam Boqvist and Connor Murphy. In addition, the last time forward Drake Caggiula was in the postseason, he was a member of the Oilers.
Much of Edmonton’s roster doesn’t have much postseason experience. They haven’t played in the playoffs since 2017, when they played 13 games and fell in the second round. That means forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and McDavid and defensemen Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse, some of the Oilers’ most important players, don’t have much experience in the postseason.
The Blackhawks are without several notable players, including defenseman Brent Seabrook (both hips/right shoulder) and forwards Andrew Shaw (concussion) and Zack Smith (back), each of whom have lingering injuries that prevented them from joining the team in Edmonton. But Chicago does have defenseman Calvin de Haan (right shoulder) back in the lineup after he missed most of the season.
The Oilers are down defenseman Mike Green (opt out) and Riley Sheahan (undisclosed), who missed Edmonton’s 4-1 exhibition victory against the Flames on Tuesday but has been practicing with the team.
The Blackhawks took two out of three games — both wins at home — against Edmonton in the regular season, including their first win of the season, 3-1, on Oct. 14 and a 4-3 win March 5.
Tale of the tape
Blackhawks — Stat — Oilers
48.79% (21st) — Corsi for — 47.56% (27th)
46.63% (28th) — Expected goals for — 48.75% (22nd)
2.97 (18th) — Goals per game — 3.14 (14th)
3.06 (17th) — Goals against per game — 3.03 (15th)
15.2% (28th) — Power play — 29.5% (1st)
82.1% (9th) — Penalty kill — 84.4% (2nd)
49.9% (17th) — Faceoffs — 49.0% (23rd)
Kubalik — Toews — Saad
Nylander — Strome — Kane
DeBrincat — Dach — Caggiula
Carpenter — Kampf — Highmore
Keith — Boqvist
de Haan — Murphy
Maatta — Koekkoek
Nugent-Hopkins — McDavid — Kassian
Ennis — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Athanasiou — Haas — Archibald
Neal — Khaira — Chiasson
Klefbom — Larsson
Nurse — Bear
Russell — Benning
How to watch
When: 2 p.m.
Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV