But then Chicago faced the top-seeded Golden Knights, who ended the Blackhawks’ playoff run before it could really get started with a five-game exit in the first round.
For the Blackhawks to be eliminated so quickly a lot had to go wrong and did. While Chicago advancing against the Oilers proved what they can do right — namely the first line and an excellent penalty kill — the series against Vegas showed what they need to improve upon.
Here are five things (there were more, of course) that went wrong for the Blackhawks during their nine-game postseason run:
The Blackhawks scored five power-play goals in the postseason, which isn’t bad for a unit that produced at a 15-percent successful rate in the regular season.
It is bad, however, once you realize they scored three of those five goals in the first game and only two over the next eight.
The Blackhawks only increased their success rate by 1.7 percent from the regular season due in part to an 8.3-percent success rate against Vegas. Against Edmonton that number was 22.2 percent.
One reason for that was a lack of luck as the Blackhawks had a .935 PDO on the power play, which was 21st in the NHL. That number fell to .553 against Vegas. Chicago had the fourth-most shot attempts (122.39 per 60) and ninth-most shots on goal (57.67 per 60). However, they also shot into the fifth-most blocks on the power play (40.01 per 60).
Attempts (120.26) and shots on goal (49.67) went down against Vegas while shot blocks went up (41.83). The Blackhawks went a good chunk of their 23:57 on the man advantage against the Golden Knights without shooting, and they allowed a shorthanded goal.
One problem with the power play was an issue with the Blackhawks overall. Besides Olli Maatta (six points, three goals) and Slater Koekkoek (three points, one goal), not enough of their defense contributed offensively.
Duncan Keith did have five points with four of them primary assists, but none of the Blackhawks’ top four defensemen scored a goal. That’s despite Connor Murphy taking the most shots on the blue line with 12 and Keith and Calvin de Haan taking 10, the same number as Maatta.
The lack of defensive scoring especially showed up against Vegas. Maatta (one goal, one assist) and Murphy (two assists) were the only two with multiple points and Keith only had one primary assist in 126:43 in the five-game series.
Rookie Adam Boqvist had zero points in eight games. For someone who is known for his offense and puts more energy in that side of the game, a lack of production stands out.
It’s likely a reason why he was scratched in Game 2 against Vegas in favor of Lucas Carlsson. Unfortunately, it didn’t break the slump. It’s not like Boqvist didn’t try, and of the Blackhawks’ most-used defensemen, he had the most shots per 60 across all strengths (3.89).
That lack of production may have had something to do with the next factor working against the Blackhawks.
Chicago’s .935 PDO on the power play was not the only time the Blackhawks had awful luck. By my best count they hit 15 posts in the postseason.
While the Blackhawks’ shooting percentages were largely good (NHL-high 11.17 at five-on-five; 11.02 percent across all strengths), individual players had bad luck. Despite a ninth-best .85 expected goals, Alex Nylander had zero goals. Players like Matthew Highmore (three goals) and Dylan Strome (two goals) had multiple goals with fewer quality chances.
Boqvist had .46 expected goals (tied with Keith for first among blue liners) and came up with nothing. Alex DeBrincat had several quality chances, especially late in the series against Vegas, and only scored two goals (one empty net).
Boqvist and Nylander had on-ice shooting percentages below five percent. The Blackhawks had some good luck but they could have done with more.
The Blackhawks featured a lot of youth as the youngest team in the postseason. Players like Kirby Dach, Highmore and Dominik Kubalik blew away expectations.
But those three were the only ones who surpassed expectations in their first trip to the postseason. Dach scored six points (one goal, five asssts). Highmore had four points (three goals, one assist). Kubalik had the best postseason debut for a rookie in NHL history with five points (two goals, three assists) in Game 1 against Edmonton.
Meanwhile, DeBrincat scored six points (two goals, four assists) and didn’t return to form until the second half of the Vegas series. Strome was inconsistent and Boqvist didn’t do the one thing he needs to: put up points.
David Kampf added a shorthanded goal, but the trio of him, Ryan Carpenter and Highmore were not the shutdown line the Blackhawks needed. They allowed 1.64 expected goals against at five-on-five and seven high-danger chances against Vegas.
Murphy put up some critical points, especially against Edmonton. But he also faded against Vegas. He finished that series with six goals against tied for second-most on the team. He also looked off on the penalty kill at times.
Nylander was the worst of the bunch with zero points and looked out of place at times before he was finally scratched in favor of another lesser forward in John Quenneville.
Besides Dach and Kubalik, and the surprise of Highmore, none of the playoff first timers showed up in the ways the Blackhawks needed them to.
The Blackhawks were one of the NHL’s worst possession teams at five-on-five in the postseason. With a 42.28 percent Corsi they were 23rd out of 24 teams. They were 23rd in shot share (41.06 percent) and high-danger share (36.42 percent). They were dead last in expected goal share (36.21 percent).
Maybe this was expected against the Golden Knights, who were one of the best possession teams in the regular season. But the Oilers were far from that (27th in the league with a 47.87 CF%) and finished in the top five in several stats in the postseason (53.96 CF%).
This comes after a regular season where the Blackhawks had one of the worst defenses at five-on-five and finished in the bottom five in several stats (48.45 CF%). Some improvement should have been expected, especially against Edmonton. Yet the Blackhawks regressed.
That was more the fault of some players than others as Drake Caggiula had a team-low 36.96 CF%, but no one finished with above 50 CF%. Brandon Saad was closest to the mark with a team-high 47.44 CF%.
Possession was never the Blackhawks’ strength at any point, but it got drastically worse in the postseason.
Stats from Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick