Patrick Kane almost joined in on Saturday’s puck parade, but he was offsides before shooting an empty-netter that would’ve added another goal to the Chicago Blackhawks’ surprising 6-4 win in Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers.
What might be the most surprising thing is that the Hawks didn’t need a monster game from Kane, who had three goals and four assists in the previous six meetings against the Oilers.
Kane assisted on Jonathan Toews’ power play goal via Dominik Kubalik. The Hawks will likely need Kane at some point in the series, but others stepped up in Game 1.
The rookie Kubalik, a Calder Trophy finalist, totaled three points in the three games before the season paused — and he had an NHL-record five in his postseason debut.
Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad and Toews scored three goals in three minutes and 26 seconds in the third period to completely flip the game after the Oilers took a 1-0 lead.
Olli Maatta assisted on Saad’s goal, scooping up a puck that was on the edge of going in for an Oilers goal in the second period.
It was the little things added for the Hawks.
“It feels good,” Toews said. “We snuck in, got that last spot (in the Western Conference). Obviously it’s a qualifier, but you get one win under your belt and it’s a good feeling. It gives you that confidence (that) there’s no telling how far you can go.
“It’s playoff hockey — anything can happen.”
The Hawks will have to see if they can sustain their Game 1 momentum, especially when the Oilers inevitably come out gunning for the Hawks in Game 2 Monday.
Here are four takeaways from Game 1.
1. Dominik Kubalik was ‘just being a horse’, especially on the power play.
Brandon Saad was on the ice for two even-strength goals assisted by Dominik Kubalik on the top line, one that Saad scored.
“Overall as a player, he protects the puck so well, he creates chances, obviously you can see how he scores goals,” Saad said of the rookie. “That helps our power play, that helps our even strength game, and then just being a horse out there.”
The Oilers had the most formidable power play in the league during the regular season, but Kubalik’s unit — with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach and Duncan Keith — dominated them in Game 1. On Kubalik’s second power play goal, he deflected a rifle pass from Keith.
The Oilers’ Darnell Nurse, who was on the penalty kill during that goal, said, “Once they got in, they beat us every which they can on PK.”
Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton explained why Kubalik has thrived in his role.
“He is a shooter and we want to find a way to release him in the middle of the ice,” Colliton said.
2. Was it physical or mental for the Oilers?
The Oilers agree that weren’t ready for the Hawks. Why they weren’t ready depends on who you ask.
Several players said they need to “simplify” the game, suggesting it was mental.
“I thought we did a better job as the game went on of keeping it simple,” Connor McDavid said. “That’s what our team needs to do, ultimately, is be simpler.”
A reporter asked Edmonton coach Dave Tippett if he thought there was a mental lag from the long break, and Tippett shot back with, “That was a physical thing. You lose battles that’s a physical thing. It’s not putting enough into the physical battle.”
One thing that was clear is the Oilers got outhustled by the Hawks.
“We talked about being solid early and go out and give up two outnumbered breaks in the first two or three minutes,” Tippet said. “We just didn’t think very well and we didn’t elevate our game like we needed to.”
Jeremy Colliton got the “clean” game he covets, with the Hawks winning faceoffs when they needed to, avoiding turnovers and chasing down pucks.
“I think we did a good job keeping pucks alive in offensive zone,” he said. “I think a lot of it was just the work ethic by our forwards to get above the puck so that we’re in a good position to keep the momentum going.
“We were able to extend some shifts in the offensive zone and that helped up us — offensively, of course, but also defensively. We’re not having to play in our end. We know they’re a great transition team, so we want to hold them down in their defensive zone as much as we can.”
3. The Oilers say they didn’t underestimate the Hawks.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: The Hawks are the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference in this 24-team return-to-play format. In a normal 16-team playoff field, the Hawks likely would have been home for the playoffs.
Oddsmakers don’t think much of the Hawks’ chances either. On Thursday, Westgate Las Vegas gave the Hawks 100-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup, while the Oilers were at, 30-1.
“We definitely didn’t take them lightly, a team that’s had so much success in the past,” Oilers star Connor McDavid said. “They’re battle-tested. They came out and did exactly what we thought they would do and we just weren’t ready.”
4. Did the Oilers do the Hawks a favor in starting goalie Mike Smith?
Oilers coach Dave Tipppett explained his thinking: “We started the season 5-0, Smitty started the season. We thought we wanted to start the postseason the same way.”
Goalie Mike Smith was tagged for five goals before he was replaced in the second period by Mikko Koskinen. But if hockey had the equivalent of baseball’s unearned runs, Smith’s box score might have looked a bit better.
“Other than the giveaway that went on his back, he was kind of left on his own out there,” Tippett said of the lack of defense around Smith.
For much of the season, Smith has had his detractors. Koskinen gave up a goal in a little more than a period and a half, but seemed to help settle down the Oilers.
It’s no given that Tippett will send Koskinen out to start Monday night’s Game 2.
“We’ll talk about where we are with both our goaltenders. I thought Mikko was fine in there,” Tippett said.
Jeremy Colliton said the Hawks will be ready to face either goalie.
“We know they have two good goalies and they said from the beginning that both guys would probably play. We prepared for that and we’ll see how it develops.”
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