The Chicago Blackhawks fell in overtime 4-3 to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, putting them down 2-0 in the first round series of the playoffs. They fought hard and were in the game until the very end. But the Golden Knights are a very strong team, and the Blackhawks must play nearly perfect just to keep up. As a fan it’s tough to watch, but one must keep things in perspective. Every shift is an invaluable experience for this young and flawed Blackhawks’ team that is working their butts off to get better. Let’s celebrate some of the good things in today’s news and rumors.
Getting Past Lehner
Oh the irony of the Blackhawks facing their former teammate in now Golden Knights’ goaltender Robin Lehner. At this season’s trade deadline in late February, the Blackhawks decided to cut their losses and let Lehner go. Contract negotiations between the two parties went south, and the Blackhawks weren’t expected to make the playoffs anyway.
So Lehner found himself with the Golden Knights, and earned his way as the starting goaltender over veteran Marc-Andre Fleury. At least for now. Head coach Peter DeBoer has stated he will use both netminders in the playoffs. So perhaps playing Lehner has something to do with facing the Blackhawks. After all, he does know a bit about them. Said the netminder after Game 1:
I know a lot of their tendencies. I know what they’re trying to do on the power play, etc. …I knew that … they were going to mix it up a little bit on me. On all the really in-tight chances they tried to go five-hole. I kind of anticipated that before the game.
(from, ‘What Chicago Blackhawks must do to even series with Vegas’, The Daily Herald – 8/13/20)
It’s true the Blackhawks had a hard time solving Lehner in that first game. The only goal that did get past him was a short-handed tally by David Kampf. And guess what? He shot high over Lehner’s shoulder.
But Game 2 was a different story. The Blackhawks beat their former teammate three times. The first goal was all about getting Lehner’s big frame out of position. Calvin de Haan shot the puck from the point and Lehner gave up a juicy rebound while simultaneously drifting to the right. Kirby Dach pounced on the opportunity for an easy goal.
The second goal came from Dominik Kubalik, who incidentally Lehner has complimented as having the best shot on the team. Kubalik’s shot wasn’t a rocket, and an accidental screen by a Golden Knights’ player certainly didn’t help. The shot got past Lehner glove side.
The third goal came from a beautiful feed by Patrick Kane to set up Dylan Strome back door. Take a look at this:
Lehner should’ve seen that coming. He probably did, actually, but he didn’t stand a chance. You just gotta hand that one to Kane being Kane.
I imagine Lehner will be in the crease moving forward in this series. The Blackhawks now have two games where they will be the “home” team with last change. Can they get a few more past the big goalie? We shall see.
Kane has only notched one goal in this postseason, but he made up for things a bit by assisting on all three goals scored in Game 2 against the Golden Knights. This gives him 130 playoff points in his career, good for third place in franchise history. He now sits below only Denis Savard and Stan Mikita for the Blackhawks.
I’m not sure that means much to Kane right now, as he and his team haven’t tasted a win yet in this official opening round. The veteran superstar will certainly be looking to have even more of an impact in the coming games.
Strome Is “Oh So Close”
As it turns out, the Blackhawks had Lehner beat one other time in Game 2, but the crossbar had other ideas.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) August 14, 2020
Strome already had his hands in the air thinking he’d scored the overtime and game-winning goal. Just think if he had; it would be a completely different story right now. The series would be tied 1-1 instead of the Blackhawks being down 2-0. Ah hockey, a game of inches.
Keith’s Words of Wisdom
Duncan Keith has been there and done that. The 37-year-old defenseman has won three Stanley Cups. He also boasts two Norris Trophies, and won the Conn Smythe in 2015. So when he talks, people should listen. And he doesn’t mince words much either. Heres’ what he had to say after the Game 1 loss:
The first game is under our belt. At the end of the day, not many teams are giving us a chance to win. So I think part of it is just going out and having fun, especially for the younger guys. Everybody, really. Enjoy the challenge. It’s a great challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity for our group. It’s one game. I don’t think we’re happy with the game, but we know that we can be better. And that’s a good thing, too. We’re going to have to be better.
(from, ‘Ten key observations from the Golden Knights’ Game 1 win over the Blackhawks’, The AthleticCHI – 8/12/20)
The Blackhawks were better in Game 2. They fought back from being down 2-0 and then tied the score later in the game. They got their first taste of overtime. Kubalik further stated at the post-game presser, “We had some positive things in that game… we’re really excited for next game.”
Let’s not put the cart before the horse. Baby steps. Game 3 is another chance to face the challenge that is the Golden Knights. Keep improving, and set your sights on a win. After that, take it from there.
This whole experience is certainly better than staying home.