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Kubalik nets 5 points as Blackhawks stun Oilers 6-4 in NHL qualifier opener


EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers' high-powered offence has shone all season, but as NHL elimination play began on Saturday Dominik Kubalik stole the show.

Kubalik, the 24-year-old Czech rookie, scored two goals and added three assists, leading his Chicago Blackhawks to a 6-4 win over the host Oilers in the opener of their best-of-five qualifying round series.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews added a pair of goals and an assist.  

"We got scored on in the first couple of minutes but I we came back pretty quick," said Kubalik, a Calder Trophy finalist. "I felt really good, everything went my way, so obviously it's nice but it's just the first game. We've got to keep going."

Captain Connor McDavid had a goal and three assists for Edmonton. He said the Oilers first need to review the game tape and go from there.

"There's lots that needs to get done," said McDavid.

"It wasn't good from the start ... I thought we did a better job as the game went on of keeping it simple. That's what our team needs to do ultimately is be simpler."

McDavid was asked after the game if Edmonton, as the fifth seed in the Western Conference, took bottom-seeded Chicago too lightly.

"(It's) a team that has had so much success in the past. They're battle tested and they came out and did exactly what we thought they would do, and we just weren't ready," he said.

Kubalik's game was a continuation of his torrid scoring pace in the regular season. He racked up 30 goals and 16 assists beforeplay was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Wednesday's exhibition game against St. Louis, he had two goals and an assist.

Chicago took control early on Saturday afternoon.

He notched three assists as the Hawks blitzed the Oilers with four goals in the first 13 minutes of the game to take a 4-1 lead.

Kubalik then scored twice in the second period, his first goal chasing starter Mike Smith from the Oilers net (five goals on 23 shots), and his second getting past Smith's replacement, Mikko Koskinen, to make it 6-2.

Three of Edmonton's goals came on the power play.

Things looked good for the Oilers, and their top-ranked power play, early in the first period. The Hawks took a penalty and McDavid walked in from the face-off circle and fired a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Hawks goalie Corey Crawford to make it 1-0 at the 2:34 mark.

Then the wheels came off.

Smith, notorious for playing well out of his crease, coughed up the puck behind the net to Dylan Strome, who banked it in off the goalie's pad and into the net at 5:51.

On the next three goals, Smith got very little help from this teammates, who wilted under the Blackhawks' ferocious forecheck, often caught standing around or turning over the puck.

Toews, left alone in the slot on the power play, buried a wrist shot under the bar, glove side on Smith at 7:56 of the period.

Less than two minutes later, Olli Maatta's blue-line wristshot was double deflected in the slot to fly over Smith's goalpad and in. Brandon Saad got credit for the goal.

Kubalik swooped around the net and dished the puck to an unmolested Toews in the crease, who redirected the puck past Smith at the 12:57 mark of the first.

The Oilers showed some life early in the second period. They made it 4-2, again on the power play, when McDavid, behind the end line, passed the puck to Leon Draisaitl, who one-timed it past Crawford.

Kubalik quickly got that one back, on the power play, taking a cross-ice pass and shooting from the top of the face-off circle to Smith's left, sniping the puck over his shoulder and into the net. That was it for Smith.

With time winding down in the period, Kubalik, standing in front of the net, deflected a Duncan Keith blue-line slapshot to make it 6-2.

The Oilers scored two goals with less than four minutes to go in the contest to make things interesting.

Edmonton's James Neal scored on a goal-mouth scramble and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tipped in an Oscar Klefbom point shot.

The game was played in front of tarps, massive video screens, and empty seats at Rogers Place, which is hosting the 12 Western Conference teams as the NHL completes the 2019-20 season.

While Edmonton, with a better regular-season record, was technically the "home team" the sights and sounds of the game were neutral. Goal horns would sound when either team scored, and there were revved-up announcements over the loudspeaker when the Hawks or the Oilers went on the power play.

The Blackhawks, 32-30-8 in the regular season, were decided underdogs.

They were trending out of the playoff picture and finished 23rd overall when regular-season play was suspended. They are the bottom seed among the 12 teams playing in the Western Conference elimination round.

The Oilers, seeded fifth with a 37-25-9 record (12th in NHL), were seen as the favourite, especially given they have the two top point-getters this season in the NHL: Draisaitl (110 points) and McDavid (97 points).

Game 2 goes Monday night.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 1, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press