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Blackhawks fall 2-1 to Golden Knights in Game 3, on brink of elimination

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Alex DeBrincat came alive and Corey Crawford had his best game but it wasn’t enough.

Vegas Golden Knights v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Three
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights makes a save on a shot from Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The Blackhawks fell 2-1 to the Golden Knights in Game 3 despite a late push Saturday in Edmonton.

Chicago now finds itself on the brink of elimination with Game 4 looming Sunday. Teams with a 3-0 lead are 190-4 (97.9 percent) winning a best-of-seven playoff series.

As in Game 2, the Blackhawks and Golden Knights started out Game 3 with a list of absences and changes. Vegas was without forwards Paul Stastny and Tomas Nosek, both of whom scored in Game 2, and substituted Marc-Andre Fleury for Robin Lehner in net. Max Pacioretty also drew back in after a one-game absence.

On the Blackhawks’ side, Adam Boqvist drew back in, replacing Lucas Carlsson. Jeremy Colliton also united a new top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, bumping Dominik Kubalik down to a line with Kirby Dach and Drake Caggiula.

The Blackhawks started with three power-play opportunities in the first period, but managed just four shots in more than four minutes. Oh yeah, less than five minutes into the game, William Karlsson scored a shorthanded goal to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead.

Duncan Keith needed to manage the puck better there, Dach needed to get back a bit sooner and Crawford can make that stop.

The Blackhawks also started out with a very familiar strategy: double shifting Patrick Kane. From the get go this time, as Matthew Highmore seemed stapled to the bench for the first few minutes of the game.

Kane’s first real scoring chance came when he hit the post, the 13th time this postseason the Blackhawks have drawn iron. They’re putting the “post” in postseason.

The Blackhawks did a good job limiting the amount the Golden Knights’ chances through the first half of the game, as Vegas had just six shots through 26 minutes, but eventually the Golden Knights’ offense wore Chicago down.

Vegas finished the second period with 20 shot attempts, nine shots on net and four high-danger chances at five-on-five. Patrick Brown, in for Stastny and Nosek, scored his first career NHL postseason goal for a 2-0 Vegas lead.

Adam Boqvist got caught flat footed in the neutral zone and although he attempted to get back in the play, Brown was able to follow up a chance from Alex Tuch to put the puck past Crawford. That’s to be expected from a young defenseman who turned 20 years old Saturday.

Olli Maatta scored on a wrist shot from the left circle to make it 2-1 in the third period. It’s his third goal of the postseason, which is pretty good for a defenseman that only had four in 65 regular-season games.

It’s eerily reminiscent of some goals against Crawford in the first two games of this series, as it’s a save Fleury should make but it squeezes through. It’s also the Blackhawks’ first goal of the series outside of the second period.

The Blackhawks quietly stepped up their defense again after the second goal by Brown, as the Golden Knights went more than 14 minutes without a shot on goal, and the offense continued to try and break through Fleury, but were ultimately unable to.

Quick thoughts

The Blackhawks continued their string of somewhat competent defense, as neither team managed a high-danger chance at five-on-five in the first period. They eventually couldn’t contain the Golden Knights and allowed four chances in both the second and third periods.

Alex DeBrincat had his best game of the series, but failed to turn great chances into a goal. He had eight shots, .54 expected goals and three high-danger chances, all team highs, but appeared as snake-bitten as ever this season.

Crawford continued his gradual improvement, and kept the Blackhawks in the game despite Fleury (and his posts) weathering the storm at the other end. His .923 save percentage is his best mark of the series and he saved a goal above expected.

The Blackhawks wasted last change by playing Jonathan Toews against Jonathan Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Toews finished with a 13.33 percent Corsi For and 0 percent shot share. He didn’t have an on-ice shot for at five-on-five.

To be fair, I don’t even know what favorable matchups would be. Even Vegas’ fourth line can drive possession, as they had a 71.43 CF% and 50 percent shot share. Matching up in Game 4 it will be important to find any sort of weakness.

Game Charts

Puck possession flow chart
Shot heat map

Three Stars

1. Mark Stone (VGK) — 1 A, two takeaways, two penalties drawn

2. Marc-Andre Fleury (VGK) — 26 saves, seven high danger, 2.08 expected goals against

3. Corey Crawford (CHI) — 24 saves, seven high danger, 3.01 expected goals against

What’s next

The Blackhawks play the Golden Knights at 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Game 4.