EDMONTON — The Chicago Blackhawks channelled the grit of veterans Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford to outwork and outhustle the hub-city host Edmonton Oilers right out of the NHL's post-season tournament on Friday.
The Blackhawks shook off an early goal and beat the Oilers 3-2, winning the best-of-five qualifying series 3-1 and to move on to the Round of 16.
"We knew what we wanted to do coming into the series," said Toews, who led the Hawks with four goals and seven points.
"Overall guys got better as the series went along."
Kane collected one goal and four points. Crawford made 43 saves Friday and shut the door when the Oilers pressed for the equalizer in the third period.
But there was help up and down the lineup.
Rookie Dominik Kuablik had five points in Game 1 and scored the Friday's winner off a pass from Toews. Chicago had goals from nine different players in the series. Nine of the 16 goals came off blue-line point shots.
The Blackhawks were by all rights done for the year, spiralling out of the playoff picture when COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to shut down regular season at the 70-game mark in mid-March.
However, they were one of the 24 top teams invited to play in the expanded conference post-season tournament, held in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.
"We had that two month break to kind of heal up, recover and prepare," said winger Brandon Saad.
"We weren't playing our best hockey so (it helped) to kind of have a reset, let guys look back and touch upon what makes us successful."
The Oilers were expected to beat Chicago, given they were the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference tournament and the Hawks were the bottom seed at 12.
Edmonton also had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the top two scorers in the league during the abbreviated regular season.
The Oilers admitted the team didn't match Chicago's intensity, and actually had more fight in them in their lone exhibition game last week against their hated rival the Calgary Flames.
"I thought we had our moments in this series ... but you can't play Calgary every night to bring it, so we've got to figure it out," said McDavid.
"They (Chicago) were really good. Give them credit."
Saad, Matthew Highmore and Kubalik scored for Chicago in the win. Josh Archibald and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins replied for Edmonton.
The Oilers scored 45 seconds into the game on their first shot.
McDavid fed the puck from the boards to Archibald as he streaked through the slot. Archibald redirected the puck up and over the left shoulder of Crawford.
Edmonton was without shutdown defenceman Adam Larsson for a second consecutive game (deemed "unfit to play") and it showed when Chicago scored the next two goals off point shots, catching the Oilers defence running around.
At 5:16, Saad pounced on the puck from a rebound off a Connor Murphy shot, swooped around the net, — with Edmonton defenceman Oscar Klefbom draped all over him — and slid a backhand wraparound shot past goalie Mikko Koskinen.
Less than three minutes later, Highmore, standing unmolested in front of the net, redirected a Duncan Keith point shot past Koskinen.
Nugent-Hopkins tied the game two minutes into the second period, shovelling the puck past Crawford on a goal-mouth scramble.
The winner came midway through the third, when Toews outmuscled Bear for the puck beside the Oilers net, then fed the puck to Kubalik for a one timer over the short-side shoulder of Koskinen.
The Oilers made a late push but took a too-many-men penalty with two minutes left when there was bench confusion after Koskinen started heading off for an extra attacker but then stopped and stayed on the ice.
Koskinen stopped 26 in the loss.
The Oilers suffered all series long from a lack of scoring other than from McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins. First line winger Zack Kassian was punted to the fourth line after an ineffective Game 1. Rookie Kailer Yamamoto, a point a game player after being called up in January, registered zilch on the scoresheet.
McDavid finished with five goals and nine points. Draisaitl had three goals and three assists. Nugent-Hopkins recorded two goals and eight points.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs for 13 of the last 14 seasons and four of the past five seasons since drafting McDavid first overall.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 7, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press