The Chicago Blackhawks completed their upset of the Edmonton Oilers on Friday with a 3-1 series victory in the Best-of-5 Qualifying Round. The victory marks the Blackhawks’ official advancement into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and is the first time the team has won a postseason series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015.
For the third time in four games, the Blackhawks would yield the first goal of the game after Connor McDavid found a wide-open Josh Archibald, connecting on a beautiful cross-ice pass 46 seconds into the period. The Oiler lead would be short-lived however, with Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad scoring a wrap-around goal less than five minutes later to tie the game 1-1.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) August 7, 2020
As in Game 3, rookie Matthew Highmore would have another eventful evening — first by deflecting a Duncan Keith slap shot for a 2-1 Hawks lead before committing a high-sticking penalty at the very end of the first period. Chicago would kill the penalty to begin the middle frame, but only technically, as the Oilers would tie the game just two seconds after Highmore’s penalty had expired.
After a tense start to the third period, Blackhawks rookie Dominik Kubalik would finally break the 2-2 tie — roofing the game-winning goal over the shoulder of Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen, who had gone down to one knee while trying to cover the right goalpost. The play was started by captain Jonathan Toews, who won a hard-fought board battle against defenseman Ethan Bear before feeding Kubalik.
𝗪𝗛𝗔𝗧 𝗔 𝗦𝗛𝗢𝗧
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) August 8, 2020
The Blackhawks would once again rely on goalie Corey Crawford to seal the win. Crawford — who was initially deemed “unfit to play” following his Covid-19 diagnosis before training camp — was up for the task, stymieing Edmonton’s third period barrage and finishing the game with 43 saves.
Edmonton’s elimination was one of many upsets that have occurred in the post-season thus far. In both the Eastern and Western Conferences, the last (12th) seed has eliminated the 5th-seed — with Chicago eliminating Edmonton and the Montreal Canadiens eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins. In addition, the Arizona Coyotes (11th-seed) eliminated the Nashville Predators (6th-seed).
For a team that has had extremely high aspirations the last few years, the loss is yet another critical blow for Edmonton. After years of mediocrity and with the arrivals of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers had seemingly turned a corner at last with a respectable 2017 playoff showing — only to revert back to their old ways. This year will mark the third consecutive season in which Edmonton has failed to advance into the playoffs, with 2017 being their lone playoff appearance the last 14 seasons.
Since their embarrassing first round playoff sweep against Nashville in 2017, the stakes were just as large for the Blackhawks — a team perceived by many as at a crossroads. With either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Colorado Avalanche as their next opponent in the First Round, the Blackhawks will have to be just as motivated, if not more so, to prove the naysayers wrong.
“There’s always going to be unwarranted praise, or criticism,” Toews said after the win. “Our core group has always done a good job of not listening to either. We missed the playoffs for a couple years, (so) you’re bound to have people come down on you a little bit, but I don’t think any of that has fazed us. Technically we just made the playoffs now, so the real fun begins. We worked pretty hard in this series to beat a good team — we’re going to have to dig deep and keep playing better and better in the next (round).”