The play-in round for the 2020 NHL Playoffs begin on Saturday.
Fortunately, the folks over at SB Nation’s Second City Hockey were able to help out. Dave Melton is the assistant editor over at SCH, and he took care of my pressing questions.
C&B: After missing most of July training camp, Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford is back and between the pipes after a Covid-19 scare. With a limited time to get into game shape, do you believe that Corey Crawford will be 100% come this Saturday?
SCH: The short answer is yes. When Crawford missed almost an entire calendar year of hockey because of concussion symptoms, he always maintained that he would only come back to the ice when he felt he was ready. I don’t imagine that’s changed for this situation. It may take him a period or two to get back into game shape, but I believe he’s likely as ready as any other goalie who hasn’t seen live action in over four months.
C&B: Dominik Kubalik is a gem. Originally a seventh round pick in LA, he’s got 30 goals this season and could walk away with the Calder Trophy if it all works out. Where is he at in the Hawks’ lineup?
SCH: He bounced around the lineup during the regular season but it looks like he’s settling in on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad, providing the best possession-driving line in Chicago’s lineup. All three players on that line play a two-way, 200-foot game, so I imagine you’ll see that trio lining up against the McDavid or Draisaitl line as much as possible.
C&B: Who’s the relatively unknown player for Chicago that has the best chance at making some noise in the play-in series against Edmonton?
SCH: Connor Murphy. He’s best known, right now, as the player Chicago acquired in the hotly-debated Niklas Hjalmarsson trade in 2017. Murphy has never appeared in a postseason game before but he’s been one of Chicago’s most reliable defenseman since he joined the Blackhawks. Given the big-name scorers Edmonton boasts, a strong performance from Murphy against McDavid and/or Draisaitl could go a long way towards establishing Murphy as a legitimate top-pairing defenseman.
C&B: Second City Hockey covered the recent news that the Blackhawks will no longer be allowing fans who are wearing costumes / headdresses into the United Center. It’s a step in the right direction, and it’s long overdue. Is this being welcomed, or is there some pushback among the fans?
SCH: Seems like the majority of fans are on board with this decision. I don’t have numbers for this, but it’s certainly felt like the number of fans showing up at the United Center in Native American attire has been dwindling for years. It’ll be interesting to see the next chapter of this story, because it’s hard to imagine that this is the end of it.
C&B: Finally, who wins this series, how much do they win by, and why?
SCH: It’s real tough to call.
The Blackhawks might have enough depth scoring to make up for the massive advantage Edmonton has at the top of its lineup and on special teams. I think it comes down to Chicago’s third line of Alex DeBrincat - Kirby Dach - Drake Caggiula. DeBrincat was mired in a slump all season long but was a 40-goal scorer in 2018-19. Dach appears to have taken a massive leap forward while the league was shut down and Caggiula is a solid compliment with his grinder mentality. If that line plays well, I think the Blackhawks can pull it off.
I’m no good at predictions involving the Blackhawks because I tend to lean on what I hope is going to happen instead of what I think will actually happen. With that caveat in place, I’ll say Hawks in 5.
The Oilers will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks in a best of five series beginning on Saturday, August 1st.
Thanks go to Dave over at Second City Hockey.