The newest (until the Seattle Kraken debut) NHL franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, battles one of the “Original Six” franchises in the Chicago Blackhawks. A fading dynasty battles a young squad looking to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference for years to come. This first-round series looks to be a fun one.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a team with an aging core and young players who look to be the leaders of the franchise going forward. They benefitted from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as they were the last team to receive a spot. This is their first playoff series since they were swept by the eight-seeded Nashville Predators in 2017. The 12-seeded Blackhawks took on Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers.
Despite being outmatched on paper, the Blackhawks took it to the Oilers’ leaky defense with 16 goals in their four games against the Oilers as they won the series 3-1. Jonathan Toews was the difference maker with seven points (4G, 3A) and a 55% face-off percentage (FO%). Rookie Dominik Kubalik also contributed with six points (3G, 3A), giving Blackhawks fans a glimpse of the future.
Patrick Kane and Toews were the leaders when the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in six years (2010, 2013, 2015) and they are still producing in clutch moments. They have experience and no one should take them lightly. They also have experience at goaltender with Corey Crawford, the goalie during their 2013 and 2015 championships. He has struggled this postseason with a meager .891 save percentage (SV%). Despite that, his championship experience cannot be dismissed.
As for Vegas, they have been a contender from the moment they made their debut in 2017, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season in the NHL. Last year, they blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks in the first round after a five-minute major was called on Vegas, prompting the Sharks to score four goals. The Sharks would go on to win 5-4 in overtime.
Vegas has a loaded roster but the two main pieces to their engine are Max Pacioretty, leader of the team in points with 66, and Mark Stone, the main playmaker with 42 assists. Stone’s impact was felt in early March as the offense lacked a rhythm while he was injured.
Vegas has a lethal weapon in their goaltending. Three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury is still a veteran presence for the team. Joining him is Robin Lehner, a goaltender Vegas acquired at the trade deadline this year from, ironically enough, Chicago. He is 5-0 as the Knights’ starter.
In the round-robin tournament, Vegas won all three matches, securing the top seed in the Western Conference. This included a comeback against the Dallas Stars when trailing 3-1 and an overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
I believe this series will go the distance as the Blackhawks’ experience will help them overcome their lack of depth and defense. However, Vegas’ defense is much better than Edmonton’s and Stone will provide enough playmaking to overcome the Blackhawks.
Prediction: Vegas in 7