Excuse me for one second.
(returns with megaphone)
THE BLACKHAWKS ARE IN THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS.
Thanks to another spectacular performance from the perennially underappreciated Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks topped the Oilers 3-2 on Friday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton, eliminating the hub city hosts from the qualifying round.
Crawford made 43 saves for Chicago, which advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017. Dominik Kubalik scored the go-ahead goal with 11:30 remaining in the third period to become the fifth Blackhawks rookie to score the series-clinching goal in team history and the first since Jeremy Roenick in 1990. Jonathan Toews had two assists.
Like so many games in this series, Edmonton scored alarmingly fast in the first period, with Josh Archibald one-timing a Connor McDavid pass by Crawford for a 1-0 lead 45 seconds into the game.
Chicago bounced back, though, tying the game 1-1 on a nifty wraparound goal from Brandon Saad after an Oscar Klefbom turnover.
A closer look at Brandon Saad's goal: pic.twitter.com/hxssWSkoqM— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) August 7, 2020
The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission after Matthew Highmore redirected a Duncan Keith point shot past Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen.
Early in the second, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tied the game at two just 2:02 into the second period, the beneficiary of several golden opportunities for the Oilers as its power play expired.
And then came, perhaps, the key moment of the game. With Edmonton controlling momentum after that RNH goal, Alex DeBrincat boarded Ethan Bear well away from the puck, drawing a deserved five-minute major — and DeBrincat was probably lucky to not be ejected — giving the potent Oilers power play a chance to break the game open.
But it didn’t happen.
Aided by a Darnell Nurse penalty that took care canceled out two of those five minutes, Chicago prevented Edmonton from taking the lead.
Of course, Crawford was the biggest reason for the penalty kill success, making save after save after save after save. And Crawford continued that strong performance for the rest of the second period as the Oilers outshot the Blackhawks 15-9 in the middle period.
Edmonton continued dominating play early in the third, only leading to more brilliant work from Crawford.
At the 8:30 mark of the third, Chicago took the lead for good when Toews outmuscled Bear behind the Edmonton net and fired a quick pass to Kubalik, who roofed a one-timer over Koskinen’s shoulder for a 3-2 lead that Chicago would not relinquish.
The final 11:30 was not without its drama, including this scintillating save by Crawford on Zack Kassian, just a few feet from the goal line:
Crawford was by far the biggest reason for Chicago securing the win and clinching the series in a game where the Blackhawks were outshot 45-29 and out-chanced 31-20 at five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick.
But none of that matters right now, as the Blackhawks are officially in the playoffs.
A few more bullet points for your Friday night:
- Crawford’s name deserves to be in pantheon of greatest goalies from the last decade and his continued exclusion from that discussion remains one of the sport’s biggest crimes. What else does he need to prove?
- It’s an absolute embarrassment that the Oilers have otherworldly talents like McDavid and Leon Draisaitl yet are know resigned to hoping for the draft lottery to end in their favor. Those two are too good to be on a franchise that’s so comically inept.
- The Blackhawk with the best possession numbers? That’d be 19-year-old Kirby Dach with a 52.0 Corsi For percentage, which was 14.9 above the team. His growth this series has been a fascinating subplot.
- Slater Koekkoek continues to look like a defenseman who’d be well-suited for a third-pairing role at a relatively affordable cap hit. Wouldn’t recommend him for top four minutes, but an NHL team could do much worse than having him in the No. 5 or No. 6 role.
- It’s been three years since the Blackhawks were in the official playoffs. The last playoff series they won was the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Have a drink and enjoy it, folks. It’s been too damn long.
1. Corey Crawford (CHI) — 43 saves on 45 shots (.956 SA%)
2. Duncan Keith (CHI) — 5:43 PK TOI, part of a unit that kept Edmonton’s top-ranked power play scoreless on five chances
3. Dominik Kubalik (CHI) — Game-winning goal
THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS!
Chicago will face the top seed in the Western Conference, which will by a round-robin game between the Avalanche and Golden Knights at 2 p.m. Central time Saturday.