The Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks will play each other in the best-of-5 Qualifying Round when the NHL season resumes. Though there is no date for the games to start, two NHL.com writers have already started the debate over which team has the edge in the series.
Dan Rosen, senior writer
The Oilers became a much more dangerous team and a legitimate threat when they moved Leon Draisaitl away from center Connor McDavid to play center on his own line Dec. 31. It’s Edmonton’s version of what the Pittsburgh Penguins have lived on for years, with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on separate lines but on the same power play. There is simply no way the Blackhawks are going to be able to handle the matchup problems the Oilers present with McDavid and Draisaitl apart at even strength and together on the power play.
Edmonton went 17-8-5 with 107 goals (3.57 per game), tied for the most in the League with the Philadelphia Flyers, from Dec. 31-March 11. Draisaitl had 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in those 30 games. Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who played on Draisaitl’s line, had 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in that span and McDavid had 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 23 games; the Oilers were 3-2-1 without McDavid from Feb. 11-21, when he was out because of a quad injury.
The Blackhawks, who allowed 3.06 goals per game and allowed a League-high 35.1 shots against per game this season, will not be able to handle them.
Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
Timing really is everything, isn’t it? Yes, The Blackhawks gave up a ton of shots and they weren’t the sharpest defensive team in the NHL. But every team looks to make incremental gains throughout a season, and that’s what Chicago was doing when the season was paused on March 12. In their final 25 games, the Blackhawks allowed 2.80 goals per game and trimmed their shots-against per game to 34.2. Around that time goalie Corey Crawford began playing more like a two-time Stanley Cup champion, posting a 2.35 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 17 games during that stretch.
No, it won’t be easy to stop that juggernaut Edmonton attack. But Chicago isn’t exactly bringing a slingshot to a gun fight. The Blackhawks had seven players score at least 10 goals, one fewer than the Oilers’ eight, and six players with at least 30 points, one fewer than Edmonton’s seven. And I wouldn’t mind seeing what center Jonathan Toews and forward Patrick Kane can do as far as putting pressure on McDavid and Draisaitl; as good as they are at scoring, the Oilers’ top two offensive players will have to defend some, too.
I agree with Adam, timing is everything. But in this case it’s time for Edmonton to make a stand and prove it belongs in the discussion with the big boys in the Western Conference, including the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights. The Oilers know they have to dispatch the Blackhawks quickly to start earning that respect, and that’s what I expect because of their ability to swarm Chicago’s defense and take advantage that way.
Adam brings up some good points on the Blackhawks showing signs of improvement before the season was paused, but we’re talking about a drop of less than one shot-against on goal per game in their final 25 games. Even 34.2 shots on goal per game would have been 29th in the League during that span; it’s still too many and puts too much pressure on Crawford. He’s going to have McDavid and Draisaitl coming at him at least every other shift, and they’ll be together on the power play. I really wonder if Chicago will have the puck enough to be able to get its strong offense going. I don’t think it will and I don’t think it’ll matter because Edmonton should be able to to execute effectively against the Blackhawks’ defense.
On paper this looks like a mismatch. Chicago was the 12th and final team to make the Western Conference Qualifying Round. These aren’t the 2010 Blackhawks, or even the 2015 Blackhawks. But here’s what Kane, Toews, defenseman Duncan Keith and Crawford have — big-game experience. Those four players have combined for 468 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have their name carved into the Cup a combined 11 times.
Draisaitl and McDavid each has played 13 playoff games, all in 2017.
If one bounce goes the wrong way for the Oilers, how will they handle it? Because we know how the Blackhawks handle adversity and they’ve got the hardware to prove it. In a five-game series, it doesn’t take much to steal momentum. Will McDavid and Draisaitl be able to snatch it back? It definitely will be interesting to watch.
Listen to the Ear-Splitting Home Radio Call of Brayden Point’s Fifth-Overtime Game-Winner – Sports Illustrated
There were no fans to head for the exits early when the Lightning and Blue Jackets played one of the longest games in NHL history Tuesday afternoon (and night).
Tampa Bay and Columbus played 90 minutes and 27 seconds of extra time, the fourth-longest game the league has ever seen. The game started at 3 p.m. ET and didn’t end until 9:23. It went on for so long that the Bruins-Hurricanes game previously scheduled for 8 p.m. had to be pushed back to the morning.
Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo made an NHL-record 85 saves but couldn’t stop Brayden Point’s wrister from the high slot more than halfway through the fifth overtime.
It was a dramatic goal and it produced some fantastic commentary from the guys calling the game on TV and radio.
Here’s how it sounded with Gord Miller on the call for NBCSN.
Rick Peckham handles the play-by-play duties for the Lightning on Fox Sports Sun and sounded like he was in disbelief when Point’s shot hit the back of the net.
Radio play-by-play man Dave Mishkin definitely believed what he saw, though. Mishkin, who handles the Bolts’ broadcasts on WFLA, nearly blew his mic out screaming, “Scores! Scores! Scores!”
Blue Jackets radio guy Bob McElligott, on the other hand, was absolutely crestfallen.
(I couldn’t find Fox Sports Columbus play-by-play announcer Jeff Rimer’s call of the goal, so please send it my way if you come across it.)
The game was the NHL’s longest in 20 years, 94 seconds shorter than a Flyers-Penguins conference semifinal game from May 4, 2000. The two longest games in league history were played in 1933 and 1936, more than two decades before the first goalie wore a mask full-time. So Point’s goal was a truly historic moment that we’ll be seeing for decades to come. With any luck, it’ll be Mishkin’s frantic call that lives on as the preferred historical record of Point’s goal. ESPN.com’s game recap page is already using the audio of Mishkin’s call over NBCSN’s video feed.
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A good song
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The optimist’s guide to the Canadiens beating the Flyers – Habs Eyes on the Prize
The Montreal Canadiens have been down this road before: heavy underdogs against the top seed in the format they are in. The Canadiens have said they are fine being the underdog, and almost everyone who has spoken to the media since the matchup was set has been praising the Philadelphia Flyers.
If you listened to the last episode of Habsent Minded, you’ll know why I want to bring you back to the 2012-13 season. That year, a Canadiens team that missed the playoffs the season before hired a new coach who previously made a Stanley Cup final, and overcame a months-long break to win the division in a shortened season.
The 2019-20 Flyers missed the playoffs a year ago. They hired Alain Vigneault, who had been a Stanley Cup finalist before. They rose to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and that’s where they would have been if a months-long break due to COVID-19 had not necessitated a round robin for seeding. The Flyers swept their three games, and find themselves in a position to be the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
You know that the Canadiens, incidentally coached by one of Vigneault’s assistants, Michel Therrien, lost to the Ottawa Senators and never made it past the first round.
Now, I’m not comparing the two teams. Philadelphia does seem like a deeper team than even those Canadiens were, and Montreal had a long list of players playing injured or who were too hurt to play through the series. But that ascent from afterthought to favourite is not an easy rise.
These teams need to prove themselves. Having said that, it’s entirely possible that this talented Flyers team led by a veteran coach will easily dispatch the Canadiens. But the fact that the franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012 means that there may be an opening to exploit. There isn’t the history of success that the other round-robin teams — or even the Pittsburgh Penguins — had. That doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. The Flyers are still the heavy favourites and should be expected to move on in the most likely scenario. However, we don’t know how they will react to being the favourite. After all, the Canadiens just won a post-season series last week against a team that finished three points behind the Flyers.
In 2017, Claude Julien had no answer for Vigneault’s New York Rangers. Some point to his inability to react to the Rangers’ forecheck (which just happens to be similar to the system he is using with the Flyers) as proof that Julien lost his ability to adapt.
Let’s put that series into perspective. The break between the regular season and the post-season in 2019-20 was longer than the amount of time Julien was in charge of the Canadiens before that series against the Rangers.
The Flyers are a better team than the Penguins, and may not be beaten the same way. However, Montreal proved that they have depth of their own, and beat Pittsburgh without any goals from their four top scorers.
The Canadiens will have to rely on players who helped them get through the Penguins, namely Artturi Lehkonen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and, of course, Carey Price. They all provided big goals or saves at the right time.
You don’t win a series without players stepping up, and there are many options for breakout performances against the Flyers. Whether the Canadiens get them again will likely decide how long their stay in the playoffs will be.
Multiple records fall in Lightning’s unforgettable OT win vs. Blue Jackets – Sportsnet.ca
It was a game that won’t soon be forgotten.
More than six hours after the puck first dropped, the Tampa Bay Lightning emerged victorious over Columbus Blue Jackets with a 3-2 win in five overtimes. Before Brayden Point‘s winner ended this game, multiple records were broken and players on both sides pushed themselves beyond any limit they previously had reached before.
Here is a summary of the history that was made Tuesday
Old fashioned shootout
Even without Steven Stamkos in the lineup, the Lightning fired a ton of rubber at Joonas Korpisalo in the Blue Jackets net. So much so that the 26-year-old set a new NHL record for saves in a playoff game with 85, blowing Kelly Hrudey’s mark of 73 in the 1987 Easter Epic out of the water.
In the other net, Andrei Vasilevskiy set a new Lightning record with 61 saves, breaking the previous mark set by Nikolai Khabibulin when he made 60 saves in a three-overtime win over the Capitals in 2003.
In total, the two teams combined for a record 151 shots, which smashed the previous record of 132 that occurred twice before in the Easter Epic and in the Canucks’ four-overtime win over the Stars in 2007.
The Lightning’s 88 shots were the most by one team in a game since shots began being tracked in the 1959-60 season. For comparison, the New York Rangers tallied 88 shots in their three-game sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in the qualifying round.
Point and Victor Hedman led the way with nine shots on goal each. Cam Atkinson, who was hauled down on a controversial non-call shortly before the game-winner was scored, was the only player on either team that didn’t register a shot on goal.
No shortage of ice time
Individual ice time only began being tracked in 1997-98, but Seth Jones set an NHL record by skating 65:06 Tuesday. Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov was the previous record holder after he skated 63:51 for the Dallas Stars in a five-overtime loss to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003. Jones’ teammate, Zach Werenski, wasn’t that far behind him with 61:14 of ice time.
“I feel fine,” Jones said after his historic night. “Lots of minutes, obviously, but I thought I stayed with it and obviously I tried to stay hydrated through the whole thing.”
In total, 23 players skated over 40 minutes in the game, while six of those (Jones, Werenski, Hedman, David Savard, Nick Foligno and Ryan McDonagh) skated over 50. Blue Jackets forward Eric Robinson skated a game-low 17:49, but did get two shifts in the final overtime.
The game finished after 150:27 of game time — 90:27 of which was in overtime — making it the fourth-longest game in NHL history and the second-longest since the league expanded in 1967. The three longer games were: The Detroit Red Wings’ 1-0 win over the Montreal Maroons in 1936 after 116:30 of overtime; the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins in 1933 after 104:46 of overtime; and the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001 after 92:01 of overtime.
In all, only five games have ever gone to at least five overtimes.
Both teams set new records for the longest game in franchise history. The Lightning’s previous mark was a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils in 2003 that lasted 111:12. The Blue Jackets’ longest game before Tuesday came in 2018, when the club lost 2-1 to the Washington Capitals after 89 minutes.
After a day of assumed rest, Game 2 of this series goes Thursday at 3 p.m. ET/ noon PT on Sportsnet.
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