Sunday night the Chicago Blackhawks were able to stay alive in the best of seven series against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Despite the 3-1 deficit it is impossible for even the most pessimistic Chicago fan not to be encouraged by what they’re seeing. Most people pegged Vegas to make quick work of Chicago, and it could end in five, but it has been a fight.
There’s no denying Las Vegas is the deeper and better team, but somehow Chicago has managed to hang around except for one period. The Golden Knights put game one away in their normal fashion with a 2-0 period but games two through four have Vegas and Chicago tied at 7-7 with game two going to overtime. It took a Herculean effort from Corey Crawford, stopping 48 of 49 shots, in game four to keep his team alive and he has been peppered plenty, but the Blackhawks have had their chances.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are the experienced vets with three Stanley Cups, but despite that general manager Stan Bowman has the youngest team in the NHL playoffs. Chicago, as the 12 seed, upset the fifth seeded Edmonton Oilers and did so behind some huge contributions from some of the kids like Dominik Kubalik. Kubalik had five points in the decisive game one win over the Oilers.
After the 2010 cup Bowman tore down the team and had to rebuild around the core of Keith, Kane, Toews and others that ultimately lead to championships in 2012 and 2014. However, chasing competitiveness locked the team’s roster and hijacked the salary cap as the Stanley Cup core didn’t have the help to get back, look no further than the sweep by Nashville. Bloated contracts and the No Movement Clauses, learn your lesson Bowman, handicapped what could be done and it has just been a waiting game since 2015.
Chicago is playing with house money since they wouldn’t have even gotten in to the playoffs in a normal season, let alone getting a shot at one of the Stanley Cup favorites. Crawford was late to training camp but played biggest in the closeout game against Edmonton and to stave off elimination in game four against Vegas. That was championship winning Crawford and he’ll be needed if Chicago is going to survive another night with the Blackhawk defense letting a lot of traffic around the crease.
In the four games Patrick Kane only has four points, three came in the overtime loss. Jonathan Toews only has one point, neither of them with goals. Brandon Saad just has an assist, Dominik Kublik just one goal, Kirby Dach a goal and an assist and Alex DeBrincat only a goal and assist (thank goodness he finally saw one go in on the great play to get the empty netter). Of course Vegas is focusing on Kane and Toews but the captain’s offensive output is why they got through Edmonton.
Regardless, of what happens the rest of the series the Blackhawks are clearly building something. This team feels a lot more like post-2010 with the right veterans in the place and some kids stepping up to balancing out the main guys. Moving in past the play-in games is just valuable expereince for DeBrincat, Dach and Kubalik.Of cours
e it wouldn’t be a Blackhawks off season without some tough contract decisions to make. The cap is expected to stay stagnant just above 82 million with Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, DeBrincat and Saad combining for almost 46 of it. Crawford is a free agent with goalie sketchy behind him and Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Drake Caggiula and Slater Koekkoek all restricted free agents. There’s no way Kubalik isn’t back but anyone else could be up in the air. Could the expansion draft help? Will there be a buyout coming?
It’s not quite 2010 because of the non-tear down BUT it’s much close to after the first Stanley Cup then it is trying to keep buying competitiveness. Cup favorites for next season, maybe not there yet, but there’s definitely a new core being put in place that could find Chicago back in familiar territory while Kane and Toews are still productive.