Blackhawks shock Oilers in Game 1, earn first postseason win since 2016
“It’s a good feeling,” Jonathan Toews said after the Hawks’ 6-4 win. “It gives you that confidence there’s no telling how far you can go.”
The last time the Blackhawks made the playoffs, they scored three goals in four games as the Predators swept them.
On Saturday, the Hawks’ first postseason appearance since that infamous 2017 series, they doubled that goal total in Game 1 alone.
Behind a record-setting five points by Dominik Kubalik, the Hawks shocked the Oilers with an assertive — and at times -dominant — 6-4 win to begin their best-of-five -series.
“On the outside, people may say that we don’t have a chance,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We’ve got a group that got better as the year went on, and now we have a chance to show it. So everyone’s excited about that.”
For weeks, the Hawks have banked on their roster’s unique combination of old and young players coming together to defy their 12th-place finish and produce a playoff run reminiscent of those of the early 2010s.
Colliton described it as a “best of both worlds” situation. The Hawks had five players in Game 1 — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford — with multiple Cup wins to their name. They also deployed three rookies — Kubalik, Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist — in key roles.
And up against an explosive but inexperienced Oilers team, the Hawks’ multiple identity-spanning approach worked to perfection.
“The camaraderie on the team is at an all-time high,” Saad said. “Everyone’s excited to be here, be in playoff action. And anytime you’re scoring goals, you’re hooting and hollering. It was just a great feeling overall today.”
After an early Oilers tally, the Hawks erupted for four goals in a span of just over seven minutes in the first period, taking -advantage of the Oilers’ loose defense and coach Dave Tippett’s questionable decision to start Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen in goal.
A bad turnover by Smith — known as the league’s most aggressive puck-playing goalie — gave Dylan Strome the tying goal. Then Kubalik went to work, setting up Toews, Saad and Toews again.
In the second period, Kubalik shifted over to his goal-scoring talents. A ripped one-timer chased Smith (five goals allowed on 23 shots) from the net. Kubalik then welcomed Koskinen with a tip-in later in the frame.
Kubalik’s five points (after his three-point outing in the exhibition win Wednesday) are the most by a rookie in his NHL playoff debut. He fell one point shy of the overall rookie playoff record — and created numerous opportunities in the third period to get it.
“I felt really good,” said Kubalik, understated as always. “Everything went my way. Obviously it’s nice, but it’s just the first game, so we’ve got to keep going.”
The Hawks looked hungrier, faster, smarter and more cohesive than the favored Oilers, in the Oilers’ arena no less. The Hawks finished with a 43-29 advantage in shots on goal and 70-51 lead in shot attempts.
Indeed, they looked a lot like the poised Hawks teams Chicagoans saw in the 2010, ’13 and ’15 championship runs — and far from the talented but underachieving teams that lost in the first round in 2016 and ’17 and won just 32 of 70 games during this past regular season.
Toews, personally well-versed in the difference between contention and mediocrity, seemingly saw the same.
“Obviously it’s a qualifier, but you get one win under your belt and it’s a good feeling,” he said. “It gives you that confidence there’s no telling how far you can go. It’s playoff hockey. Anything can happen. It’s good to be back.”