The Chicago Blackhawks displayed zero signs of rust in the first game of their best-of-five Qualifying Round Series against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Led by rookie and Calder Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik, the Blackhawks stunned Edmonton en route to a dominant 6-4 victory and a critical 1-0 series lead.
After an ill-advised too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty by the Blackhawks, Edmonton’s vaunted power play would open the scoring less than three minutes into the game, with Connor McDavid rifling a shot past Hawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Dylan Strome would quickly answer, tying the game 1-1 after a nifty bank-shot off the backside of Edmonton goalie Mike Smith, who had turned the puck over to Strome moments before.
From there, it was all downhill for Chicago. Powered by their top line of Saad, Toews, and Kubalik, the Blackhawks dominated the Oilers in almost every facet of the game – being quicker to pucks, winning board battles, possessing the puck, and shutting down two of the most dangerous players in the game in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
With much of the hype surrounding McDavid entering the series, Jonathan Toews reminded the hockey world how much of a force he still is, finishing the game with two goals, one assist, and a 64% faceoff percentage.
But it was rookie Dominik Kubalik who truly stole the show, registering two goals and three assists. Kubalik’s five points are the most by any NHL rookie in his playoff debut; the second-most by any NHL rookie in a playoff game; and the most by any Chicago Blackhawks rookie in franchise history.
Dominik Kubalik became the first rookie in @NHL history to collect three points in the opening period of his postseason debut!
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) August 1, 2020
Brandon Saad would add a goal and an assist to round out a dominant 10-point performance by the Hawks’ top-line. In addition, veteran defenseman Duncan Keith also finished strong. Not only did Keith finish with a multi-point outing (two assists), he also led the team in total time on ice (22:24).
Oilers goalie Mike Smith – who had defeated the Blackhawks with Arizona in 2012 – was pulled in the second period after Kubalik scored a power play goal for a 5-2 lead.
Although the Blackhawks controlled much of the game, Edmonton’s number-one ranked power play was as dangerous as advertised, converting 3 of 4 opportunities. Draisaitl, McDavid, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all finished with 3 points each; and the Oilers’ quick-strike ability reared its head in the third period, cutting a four-goal deficit to two in less than a minute of play.
Historically, 82% of NHL teams that win Game 1 of a best-of-five series advance to the next round (dating back to 1986, before the NHL adopted the best-of-seven format). In order to advance, it will be imperative for the Hawks to stay out of the penalty box, in addition to neutralizing McDavid and Draisaitl.