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2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Storylines to watch in Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights series

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Chicago’s Ryan Carpenter and Vegas’ Robin Lehner playing against their former teams headline the list.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Blackhawks now know their opponent for the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Golden Knights.

Vegas claimed the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a 4-3 overtime win against the Avalanche to complete their round-robin schedule as a top-four team in the conference by regular-season points percentage.

Here are some quick storylines to watch during the first-round series:

Former teammates

Goaltenders

Get ready for this narrative to get old fast: Corey Crawford vs. Robin Lehner.

The Blackhawks signed Lehner to a one-year contract in July 2019 then traded him in a three-way deal where he landed with Vegas on Feb. 24. Much was made, and still is, about whether the Blackhawks should’ve kept the 28-year-old Lehner and tried to re-sign him in the offseason to a long-term deal since the 35-year-old Crawford has missed 80 games the past two seasons because of concussions. Both players are set to hit free agency this offseason.

Lehner was 16-10-5 with a .918 save percentage and 10.53 goals-saved above average this season before the trade. Crawford, meanwhile, was 11-17-3 with a .915 save percentage and 6.40 GSAA in 32 games.

Lehner saved 56 of 62 shots (.903 save percentage) in two round-robin games for Vegas against the Stars (24 of 27) and Avalanche (32 of 35).

Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer said Saturday he hasn’t thought about whether to start Lehner or Marc-Andre Fleury, who won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Penguins (2016, 2017) and has the most playoff victories (78) among active goaltenders. Lehner is ready if his number will be called.

“It’s going to be fun playing them,” Lehner said of playing the Blackhawks. “They’re a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, their whole organization. But I really like it here, we’re a great hockey team [too] and we’ll do well against them.”

The Blackhawks acquired Malcolm Subban from Vegas as part of the deal, but he’s only made one appearance — a mere 1:10 and did not see a shot — when Crawford was checked out by trainers for a concussion during a game March 5. Crawford made 11 saves in 30:06 before Subban entered and made 10 saves the rest of the way in Chicago’s 4-0 exhibition win against the Blues on July 29.

Crawford went 3-1 with a .891 save percentage and minus-3.68 GSAA in four games during the qualifying round against the Oilers. He missed all but the final day of training camp recovering from the coronavirus before the Blackhawks traveled to Edmonton, the West’s hub city.

Former Golden Knight

While it’s unclear if Lehner will play against his former team, it is known Chicago forward Ryan Carpenter will.

Carpenter spent two seasons with Vegas before he signed a three-year deal with Chicago in July 2019. He set career highs in assists (13) and points (18) in 68 games during the 2018-19 season but was a healthy scratch in the playoffs.

Carpenter had one assist, four shots and takeaways, five blocked shots, 45.28 Corsi For rating and 59.39 expected goal share in three games this season against Vegas. He had one assist, five shots, no takeaways and four blocked shots during the qualifying round.

More ex-teammates

They won’t being playing against their former team, but there are a handful of players on both sides that will see former teammates from their time with other organizations.

  • Fleury and Olli Maatta (Penguins)
  • William Karlsson and Brandon Saad (Blue Jackets)
  • Nick Cousins and Dylan Strome (Coyotes)
  • William Carrier and Alex Nylander (Sabres)

Fleury-Maatta is the biggest of the four given that they won two championships together with Pittsburgh.

De Haan’s injury

The Blackhawks’ exhibition game was the first game Calvin de Haan played in more than eight months. The defenseman had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in late December after being on the receiving end of a hit from Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone in Chicago’s 5-1 loss earlier that month in Vegas.

De Haan had six points (one goal, five assists), 73 blocked shots and a 47.5 CF% with 52.6 percent of his starts in the defensive zone in 29 games before the injury. He resumed his role on the Chicago’s second pairing with Connor Murphy and had no points and 10 blocked shots against the Oilers.

Familiar faces

The King of Overtime

Blackhawks fans still wonder what could’ve been if Alec Martinez didn’t score on a deflection off Nick Leddy for the Kings to win in overtime in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final. A repeat? What about a three-peat? It’s a big what if in the Blackhawks’ recent history.

Martinez is with the Golden Knights now after he was traded from Los Angeles on Feb. 19. He had eight points (two goals, six assists) in 10 regular-season games and no points in three round-robin games.

Old Blues

The Blackhawks are pretty familiar with two Vegas forward that used to play in the Central Division with Paul Stastny and Ryan Reaves.

Stastny started with the Avalanche (2006-14) then moved to the Blues (2014-18) and even played for the Jets (2018) before joining Vegas. Reaves also played for the Blues (2010-17), and the duo were teammates in St. Louis for three seasons.

Former AHL foes

This is a small nugget for AHL fans.

For the past three seasons, the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate was the Chicago Wolves, who along with the Blackhawks’ Rockford IceHogs are the only two AHL teams in Illinois. There’s a natural rivalry there despite the parent clubs not being divisional foes. Both teams have at least two players that are expected to play during the series.

Blackhawks: Matthew Highmore (2017-20), David Kampf (2017-18)

Golden Knights: Nicolas Roy (2019-20), Shea Theodore (2017-18), Zach Whitecloud (2018-20)

Stats from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference