“We had that two month break to kind of heal up, recover and prepare,” winger Brandon Saad said. “We weren’t playing our best hockey so (it helped) to kind of have a reset, let guys look back and touch upon what makes us successful.”
Edmonton was led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the top two scorers in the league during the abbreviated regular season.
The Oilers admitted the team didn’t match Chicago’s intensity, and actually had more fight in them in their lone exhibition game last week against their hated rival the Calgary Flames.
“I thought we had our moments in this series … but you can’t play Calgary every night to bring it, so we’ve got to figure it out,” McDavid said.
“They (Chicago) were really good. Give them credit.”
The Oilers scored 45 seconds into the game, on their first shot.
McDavid fed the puck from the boards to Archibald as he streaked through the slot. Archibald redirected the puck up and over the left shoulder of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.
Edmonton was without top-pairing shutdown defenseman Adam Larsson for a second consecutive game (deemed “unfit to play”) and it showed when Chicago scored the next two goals off point shots, catching the Oilers defense running around.
At 5:16, Saad pounced on the puck from a rebound off a shot by Connor Murphy, swooped around the net — with Edmonton defenseman Oscar Klefbom draped all over him — and slid a backhand wraparound shot past goalie Mikko Koskinen.
Less than three minutes later, Highmore, standing alone in front of the net, redirected a point shot by Duncan Keith past Koskinen.
Nugent-Hopkins tied the game two minutes into the second period, pushing the puck past Crawford on a goal-mouth scramble.
Edmonton’s defensive troubles worsened in the second period when Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat drilled Ethan Bear head-first into the boards from behind. Bear went to the dressing room and DeBrincat was assessed a five-minute major for boarding.
The winner came midway through the third, when Hawks captain Jonathan Toews outmuscled Bear for the puck beside the Oilers net, then fed the puck to Kubalik for a one timer over the short-side shoulder of Koskinen.
The Oilers made a late push but took a too-many-men penalty with two minutes left when there was bench confusion after Koskinen started heading off for an extra attacker but then stopped and stayed on the ice.
Crawford made 41 saves for the win. Koskinen stopped 25 in the loss.
The Hawks’ success was due to veteran leaders and scoring up and down the lineup. Toews had four goals and seven points in the series. Patrick Kane collected one goal and four points.
Rookie Kubalik had five points in Game 1, but was otherwise quiet until his game-winning, and series-clinching goal.
The Oilers suffered from a lack of scoring, other than from McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins. First line winger Zack Kassian was punted to the fourth line after an ineffective Game 1. Rookie Kailer Yamamoto, a point a game player after being called up in January, was kept off the scoresheet in all four games.
McDavid finished with five goals and nine points. Draisaitl had three goals and three assists. Nugent-Hopkins recorded two goals and eight points.
The Blackhawks were by all rights done for the year, headed out of the playoff picture when COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to shut down regular season at the 70-game mark in mid-March.
NOTES: The Oilers have missed the playoffs for 13 of the last 14 seasons and four of the past five seasons since drafting McDavid first overall. … Chicago had goals from nine different players in the series. Nine of the 16 goals came off blue-line point shots.
Blackhawks advance to the round of 16.
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