The Chicago Blackhawks became the first team eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday.
The Blackhawks lost 4-3 in Game 5 to the Vegas Golden Knights in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the West hub city. They were the No. 8 seed after defeating the Edmonton Oilers in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Chicago was the No. 12 seed in the Qualifiers after finishing the regular season with a .514 points percentage (32-30-8).
Here’s a look at what happened during the 2020 postseason for the Blackhawks and why things could be better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Corey Crawford, G.
Potential restricted free agents: Dylan Strome, F; Drake Caggiula, F; Dominik Kubalik, F; Slater Koekkoek, D; Malcolm Subban, G.
Potential 2020 NHL Draft picks: 7
What went wrong
Relied on Crawford too much: Crawford faced an average of 37 shots per game against the Golden Knights, including at least 39 in three of the games. He had his struggles early in the series but the 35-year-old, who missed all but one day of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19, got better as it went on. Crawford was solid in Game 3 and outstanding in Game 4, when he saved 48 of 49 shots to help force Game 5 with a 3-1 win. But in the end, the Golden Knights had far more shots and scoring opportunities each game than the Blackhawks, who never managed more than the 27 shots they had in Game 3.
Too little, too late: Alex DeBrincat scored his first goal (empty net) of the postseason in Game 4 against Vegas and had two goals in nine postseason games. Jonathan Toews scored seven points (four goals, three assists) in four games against Edmonton but two (one goal, one assist) in five games against Vegas. Brandon Saad had two assists, and Patrick Kane scored five points (goal, four assists) in five games against Golden Knights. Kane and Toews scored their first goals against Vegas in Game 5.
Not deep enough: The Blackhawks couldn’t get a consistent four-line rotation going throughout the series. In Games 1-3, they were chasing after Vegas took leads. In Games 4 and 5 they were trying to keep the series alive by double-shifting Kane. There wasn’t enough trust in the bottom-six forwards.
Reasons for optimism
The rookies: Center Kirby Dach, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored six points (one goal, five assists) in his first postseason. Forward Dominik Kubalik, who scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in the postseason, is a finalist for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player voted as the top rookie in the NHL after scoring 46 points (30 goals, 16 assists) in 68 regular-season games. They are two important building blocks moving forward for the Blackhawks.
Experience gained: From forwards Dach, Kubalik, DeBrincat and Ryan Strome, to defensemen Adam Boqvist and Connor Murphy, several Blackhawks got their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were part of an upset win in their qualifiers series. That should be a great benefit for Chicago going forward.
Draft time: The Blackhawks have seven picks, including two in the third round, in the 2020 NHL Draft. It’ll be a great opportunity for them to keep building their depth.