The Chicago Blackhawks are playing with house money so their opponent in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is only appropriate. Sitting in last place in the Central Division with 72 points when the regular season was halted, the new postseason format gave the Hawks a second lease on life. They made the most of it by downing the heavily-favored Edmonton Oilers in four games in the qualifying round. Now, the Hawks turn their attention to the West’s No. 1 seed Vegas Golden Knights, who swept round-robin play to get the top spot. The seven-game series inside the Edmonton bubble opens on Tuesday.
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Vegas Golden Knights vs. Chicago Blackhawks Series Schedule
Game 1: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights, Tuesday, August 11, 2020 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights, Thursday, August 13, 2020, 5:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks, Saturday, August 15, 2020, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4: Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks, Sunday, August 16, 2020, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 5: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights, Tuesday, August 18, 2020 (If Necessary)
Game 6: Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks, Thursday, August 20, 2020 (If Necessary)
Game 7: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights, Saturday, August 22, 2020 (If Necessary)
Series Price at BookMaker.eu
Chicago Blackhawks +282
Vegas Golden Knights -335
Both teams played ahead of this first-round series, though the pressure was much greater for Chicago. Vegas was already a top-four seed working out the kinks from a lengthy hiatus to get positioning down. Does playing a win-or-go-home series give the Hawks a competitive advantage? I think there is something to be said about that. After all, Chicago stumbled through the regular season and was the last team in the West to beat the cutoff point.
Take nothing away from them, though. The corps of the squad that won three Stanley Cups in a six-year span is leading the way led by Jonathan Toews. He tallied 60 points during the regular season with an additional seven points on four goals and three assists in the series win over Edmonton. Leading scorer Patrick Kane notched 80 points during the regular season and chipped in with a goal and three assists against the Oilers.
It’s still a crapshoot defensively for the Hawks. They allowed 218 goals during the regular season, the second-most of any Western Conference team playing in the hub. They conceded 15 goals to the Oilers in the qualifying round. Corey Crawford has been money in the postseason during his career. He backstopped the team to its last two Stanley Cup victories posting a lifetime playoff goals against average of 2.34 with a .918 save percentage.
Vegas set the bar astronomically high for future expansion teams. They reached the final in their first season and dropped a first-round series last year. They won the Pacific Division for a second time entering the hub with the third-most points in the conference. Going 3-0 in round-robin play while tallying 15 goals gave them the No. 1 seed. Since Pete DeBoer took over as coach the Golden Knights are 18-5-2.
And they could be more dangerous with the expected return of Max Pacioretty. The team’s leading scorer during the regular season with 66 points missed the opening games with an undisclosed injury. Reports have him back in the lineup on Tuesday, bolstering an offense that averaged 3.15 goals per game during the regular season.
You don’t often see a goalie rotation in the playoffs because it rarely works. The No. 1 guy typically sees all the action. Vegas will decide between Robin Lehner and Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury with Lehner likely getting the first shot. Lehner made two starts during round-robin play giving up six goals with a .903 save percentage. Fleury struggled in his only start giving up four goals in a win over St. Louis.
Player(s) to Watch
Pacioretty is obviously a key for the Golden Knights, though they showed they can score without him by tallying 15 goals in three games. So I’m keeping an eye on a two Chicago players who can make life hard on opposing defenses. No, I’m not talking about Kane and Toews, rather Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik. Kane and Toews are still elite-level talents and will get their chances. But the Hawks need someone else to step up with the Knights doing their darndest to slow down Chicago’s top two scorers. Kubalik scored 30 goals during the regular season and tallied three more against Edmonton. DeBrincat netted 41 goals last season but dipped to 18 this season. He notched three assists against the Oilers.
Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks Free Picks
The Hawks weren’t even supposed to be here so expect them to let it all hang out during this series. As Toews said after upsetting Edmonton, “Now the fun begins.” The season series was close with each winning in regulation and Vegas taking the third in a shootout outscoring the Hawks 10-7. I expect the series to be closer than oddsmakers are making it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chicago pull another upset. I don’t have a lot of faith in their defense, though.
Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks Series Pick: Golden Knights in 7 Games
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