Season series shows Blackhawks can handle Oilers

The Hawks went 2-1 against the Oilers this season and outplayed their future playoff opponent in all three games.

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The Blackhawks played well in all three regular-season meetings with the Oilers.

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When the Blackhawks and Oilers eventually square off in their “qualifying round” series — whether that’s in late July, early August or another time — there’s one player almost guaranteed to shine.

Hawks wing Patrick Kane.

Kane has bewildered every team in the NHL for more than a decade, but there’s no club he more routinely has dominated than the Oilers.

In 43 career games against the Oilers, Kane has amassed 56 points (18 goals and 38 assists). That 1.3 points-per-game average is his best against any Western Conference foe.

Kane maintained that rate this season, too, notching four points in the Hawks’ three games against the Oilers. He had a goal in the Hawks’ 3-1 home victory Oct. 14, two assists in their 5-3 road loss Feb. 11 and a goal in their 4-3 home victory March 5, less than a week before the season was shut down by the coronavirus.

And beyond Kane, the entire Hawks roster played well in all three games. That’s an encouraging sign for the 12th-seeded Hawks when they go up against the fifth-seeded Oilers.

The Hawks had more shots, shots on goal and scoring chances than the Oilers in all three meetings, and defenseman Duncan Kane had a combined Corsi rating above 60% in the three games.

The first two matchups were among wing Brandon Saad’s best performances of the season, and the same was true for defenseman Adam Boqvist in the latter two. Goalie Corey Crawford had a .923 save percentage in his two starts.

On the other side, Oilers star Connor McDavid was completely shut down. He missed the game in February with an injury and was held to zero points and five shots on goal in the two games at the United Center.

Center Leon Draisaitl was his usual dynamic self, with seven points in the three games, but stopping one head of the monster is often a winning recipe, considering the Oilers’ shortcomings elsewhere.

Broadly, the Hawks’ system and personnel match up well against the Oilers. The Hawks’ aggressive counterattacking style, which often equates to a lot of scoring chances for and against, generally performed better against like-minded opponents than against more conservative systems. They were 21-13-3 against teams in the top half of the league in terms of pace (combined scoring chances per game) and 11-17-5 against slower teams.

The Oilers, who have only a fraction of the talent on defense that they boast on offense, ranked 12th in pace (the Hawks were first). And it’s clear which aggressive mindset trumped the other.

One strength-versus-strength battle the Oilers did win was their league-leading power play against the Hawks’ ninth-ranked penalty kill. The Oilers went 3-for-8 on the power play in the three games.

The Hawks’ best bet in the playoff series likely will be to stay out of the box. That worked in the game against the Oilers in March, when they committed only one penalty.

The Hawks have another advantage, too: the wealth of postseason experience of the players on their roster and the Oilers’ lack of it. Wing James Neal is the only player on the Oilers’ roster who has made more than 30 career playoff appearances.

The Oilers still might begin the series as favorites. But even if they do, it likely won’t be by a wide margin. And the Hawks will have lots of confidence going in.

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