The Blackhawks hung on for about 43 minutes before the Golden Knights pulled away late for a 4-1 victory for a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference first round series Tuesday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Chicago’s first playoff game in three years started tied 0-0 first period before Vegas broke the deadlock with two goals in a 2:17 span of the second period.
Shea Theodore’s tally was first, scoring his goal on a wrist shot that went through a maze of bodies but is one goaltender Corey Crawford should make the save on.
Shea Theodore gives the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead against the #Blackhawaks. pic.twitter.com/LP2GTvw1gf— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 12, 2020
The Golden Knights fourth line struck next, with Ryan Reaves firing a puck on net and William Carrier poking it home after a scramble.
William Carrier makes it 2-0 Golden Knights against the #Blackhawks. After a challenge for offside, the goal counts. pic.twitter.com/6jguMqTel0— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 12, 2020
As mentioned in the tweet, Chicago’s challenge for offside was unsuccessful and Vegas moved to a power play — which ended up working in the Blackhawks’ favor.
Some dogged work by Brandon Saad in the offensive zone resulted in a turnover and David Kampf was the beneficiary, roofing a shot past Robin Lehner to make it a 2-1 Vegas lead. It’s Kampf’s first career playoff goal.
Brandon Saad steals the puck from Shea Theodore, and David Kampf scores a shorthanded goal to cut the deficit to 2-1. #Blackhawks #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/mYM197bmXe— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 12, 2020
Chicago had a higher quantity of shot attempts (15-11 at five-on-five play) and shot quality (8-2 advantage in five-on-five scoring chances) during the second period and also generated plenty of scoring opportunities on a power play in the closing minutes of that period — but they were unable to tie the game.
At 3:32 of the third period, though, Reilly Smith scored the goal that broke Chicago’s back, restoring Vegas’ two-goal advantage with a wrist shot that went off Crawford’s right shoulder and into the net. It was a clear gaffe by Crawford and made Chicago’s ultimate defeat in Game 1 feel inevitable.
Smith scored again five minutes later for additional insurance the Golden Knights wouldn’t need.
Lehner made 19 saves in his first appearance against Chicago since he was traded away in February. He looked largely unbothered in net aside from when he lost his left skate blade not once but twice and had to be helped to the bench for some assistance by Vegas equipment manager Chris Davidson-Adams.
- He’s 19. He’s going to learn. However ...
SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK DACH— Second City Hockey (@2ndCityHockey) August 12, 2020
Kirby Dach scoring chance #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/vpiXqabPxb— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 12, 2020
- The heatmap from the entire game is posted below, but here’s a look at the way things looked after the first 40 minutes of play:
Vegas held a 21-14 shot advantage after two periods (15-9 at five-on-five play). But notice the lack of attempts in the high-danger zones on the right side of the ice? For the most part, Chicago did an adequate job of keeping the Golden Knights to the outside, even though it felt like Vegas had long stretches of possession in the Chicago end. For 40 minutes, the Blackhawks played good enough to win. They needed better results on the offensive end.
- But 40-minute performances aren’t going to win playoff games, either. Especially when it’s a No. 8 seed going up against a No. 1 seed.
- The Blackhawks are also going to need more timely scoring. That power play at the end of the second period? With Chicago building momentum and starting to control the play, that would’ve been an ideal time to tie the game and put Vegas back on its heels.
- Crawford gave up two bad goals. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him not surrender another one for the rest of the series. But if he isn’t better, the Blackhawks have no chance in this series.
- Overall, was any of this surprising? Defeating Vegas once has proven to be a major challenge for the Blackhawks historically and winning four of seven feels like climbing Mount Everest twice. The Blackhawks played a decent game for 40 minutes but that probably won’t ever be enough in this matchup.
- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, Saad, Dominik Kubalik, Alex DeBrincat ... those six simply have to produce more if this series is going to be a competitive one.
- Reilly Smith (VGK) — 2 goals, 1 assist
- Jonathan Marchessault (VGK) — 2 assists, 6 SOG
- David Kampf (CHI) — SHG
The Blackhawks play Game 2 against the Golden Knights at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.