Rozner: Blackhawks and Oilers could put on a show once NHL starts back up

There are two things you hear frequently as you make the rounds of NHL executives these days.

One is that when the games begin in roughly six weeks, there is going to be some very entertaining hockey. Teams coming off a long layoff and short camp are going to be very fresh, players will be excited and defense will be optional.

Expect high-scoring series.

The other is that the aforementioned theory applies perhaps more to the Blackhawks and Oilers than any other matchup.

It will be a track meet. And who doesn't love a track meet on ice?

Coaches, defensemen and goaltenders will hate it, but the highflying forwards - like Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid - are going to love the wide-open play.

"It could be high scoring," Hawks winger Alex DeBrincat said on a conference call Thursday. "They have a really good team and a lot of great offensive players. They can be very deadly and that's something we have to focus on.

"We have a lot of offensive guys as well. It should be a fun series. In a short series like that, the intensity will be high."

Another feeling you get from speaking with NHL types is that the Hawks absolutely have a chance. Some of that is based on the Hawks having long stretches during the truncated season in which they seemed to be figuring it out, and some of it is based on them going 3-2-1 against Edmonton the last two years.

But mostly it's based on the idea that the Hawks have a two-time, Stanley-Cup winning goaltender who should have won the Conn Smythe each time.

And if Corey Crawford gets hot, the Hawks would have a big advantage over the Oilers' duo of Mike Smith - who was superb against the Hawks in 2012 while with the Coyotes - and Mikko Koskinen. The Edmonton goalies were nothing if not unpredictable during the season.

The 38-year-old Smith carried his club to the conference finals in 2012, but that was a long time ago. Some would make that argument about the 35-year-old Crawford, but the difference is Crawford seemed to be back in form after the trade of Robin Lehner, while Smith never did look like his old self this season.

"Whatever team can get up and running quickly will have an advantage," Kane said Thursday. "I think we have a really good team for that.

"We have some young players that can probably jump back on the ice and get their game back pretty quickly. From what I've heard, a lot of guys have stayed in pretty good shape so it will definitely be an advantage for a team that can come back and get together quickly and find their game right away.

"I think there might be some surprises. I don't want to say it could be a free-for-all, but there's not going to be the distinct advantages that there might be with a 1-vs.-8 seed.

"In some of these play-in series, I think any team can win."

The Hawks also have a substantial group of players who have won Stanley Cups, including Kane, Crawford, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw (if he returns from a concussion). The Oilers can't say the same and - like the Hawks - haven't been to the playoffs since 2017.

Connor Murphy noted that during the break he's been watching replays of some of his current teammates winning Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

"It's amazing to reflect on the guys we still have and what they've accomplished in playoffs, and that next level that they get to," said the 27-year-old Murphy, who has never been in a postseason series. "It's really exciting watching those playoff series and it definitely gets the juices flowing."

On paper, it's difficult to see the Hawks matching up with the likes of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto and James Neal, to name a few Oilers, but someone might have once said that the games aren't played on paper.

What makes the Hawks dangerous is giving these rested playoff veterans a sniff of the playoffs for the first time in three years, along with a mix of young players who should be excited to get a taste of postseason hockey.

There's also the unknown of how players and teams will emerge from so many months off, a variable that no stat can quantify. A short strike in 1992 late in the season and the lockout that delayed the 2012-13 season provide evidence that oddities can occur.

What we do know is the games should be fast and loaded with offensive chances, and that's a game the Hawks can play.

It's a style the Hawks could sustain for a short time - especially if their goaltender can find his playoff magic.

The Blackhawks' Alex DeBrincat celebrates with teammates after scoring during the March 5 win against Edmonton at the United Center. Associated Press
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.