Facing the top-seeded Golden Knights in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs proved to be too steep of a hurdle for a flawed Blackhawks team to clear. As discussed earlier in the day around these parts, plenty of things went wrong, resulting in a five-game series defeat. But there were bright spots to be found in Chicago’s nine-game postseason run.
Here’s a (likely incomplete) list of such items:
Corey Crawford in Game 4
By miles, the signature performance of the Blackhawks series against the Golden Knights came from veteran goaltender Corey Crawford. Facing an onslaught in Game 4 with Chicago on the brink of elimination, Crawford extended the Blackhawks season for another game with a virtuoso 48-save performance in a 3-1 Chicago victory.
(Crawford was so good the NHL added two more saves to his total after the final horn.)
Corey Crawford's highlight-reel from his 46-save performance for the #Blackhawks in a 3-1 win against the Golden Knights in Game 4. #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/5j0u5sgdnr— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 17, 2020
The Golden Knights threw everything they could at the Blackhawks’ net, attempting 96 shots with 41 scoring chances and 14 high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Data from Sportlogiq put the number of shots on goal from the slot at 19. Crawford may have had a few gaffes at other moments of the series, but the most under-appreciated athlete in all of Chicago sports made up for it by winning a playoff game virtually by himself.
Alex DeBrincat’s re-emergence late in the series
A goal-scoring slump that lasted virtually the entire regular season and carried into the qualifying round for DeBrincat, who scored 41 goals the season before. But his snakebitten nature persisted against the Oilers, with several golden scoring chances not resulting in goals. It should be noted DeBrincat found other ways to contribute, particularly his pair of primary assists in Chicago’s Game 2 loss to the Oilers.
DeBrincat ended his scoring drought with an empty-net goal in Game 4, then tapped home a goal-mouth pass from Dylan Strome for his first occupied-net playoff goal of his NHL career.
What a play! A spin-o-rama by Connor Murphy, who finds Dylan Strome to set up Alex DeBrincat for a 2-0 #Blackhawks lead against the Golden Knights. #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/130bu4kOhW— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 19, 2020
In five games, DeBrincat finished with a team-high two goals and added an assist while leading the team with 18 shots — six ahead of the runner-up mark of 12 shared by Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik.
The hope here is that those productive outings in Games 3-5 completed the exorcism of the demons that followed DeBrincat through the regular season and he’ll return to his typical goal-scoring self for the 2020-21 season — whenever it arrives.
During the regular season, Vegas had the ninth-best power play with a 21.99 percent conversion rate. Throughout the five-game series against Chicago, though, the Blackhawks penalty kill — ranked ninth during the regular season at 82.13 percent — limited the Golden Knights to one goal on 10 power plays. Factoring in David Kampf’s shorthanded goal in Game 1, Chicago gave no ground in the series while shorthanded and finished plus-1 in the special teams battle when accounting for the one power-play goal the Blackhawks scored from Kubalik in Game 2. Chicago clearly struggled at five-on-five play in this series, but winning the special teams battle is ... something, right?