Because of a coronavirus pandemic-altered format that allowed 12 teams from each conference into the playoffs instead of eight, the Blackhawks were able to sneak in as the final team in a season they normally would have missed.
But if there’s one team that knows what to do once it’s in the playoffs, it’s the Blackhawks.
And if there’s a player who knows how to get it going in the post season, it’s former UND star Jonathan Toews.
Toews reminded everyone Saturday why, despite a mediocre regular season, the Blackhawks can be so dangerous.
Toews scored two goals and tallied three points as the 12th-seeded Blackhawks knocked off the fifth-seeded Edmonton Oilers 6-4. It gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five series, which is being played in the Edmonton hub at the Oilers’ regular home, Rogers Place.
Toews tallied the 41st and 42nd playoff goals of his storied career, in which he’s already captained Chicago to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Toews was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2010 as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.
On Saturday afternoon, Toews jump-started the Blackhawks by scoring their first goal of the playoffs. Toews hauled in a pass from linemate Dominik Kubalik, the rookie who finished with two goals and five points, and wired a shot past goalie Mike Smith.
Toews added to his total later in the first period. Kubalik sent a feed from the side of the net to Toews, who one-timed it past Smith.
In addition to his two goals and assist, Toews also won 64 percent of his faceoffs.
Fellow former UND player Drake Caggiula, the 2016 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player, saw 11 minutes, 25 seconds of ice time for the Blackhawks. He didn’t register any points or shots but had four hits and one blocked shot.
Game 2 will be at 9:30 p.m. Monday.
Tucker Poolman handed first playoff defeat
For the first time in his pro career, Tucker Poolman was in the lineup for a playoff loss.
The Winnipeg Jets lost 4-1 to the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of their best-of-five series in the Edmonton hub.
Poolman, the former East Grand Forks and UND defenseman, played 14:14 for Winnipeg. Poolman had three hits and one minor penalty. He was not on the ice for any goals.
Poolman had only played in two previous playoff games — both with the Jets in 2018. Winnipeg won both games against the Minnesota Wild and did not surrender a goal in either of them.
Things did not go as well Saturday night. The Jets lost two of its top three forwards — Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine — to injuries during the game.
Game 2 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Derek Forbort wins NHL playoff debut
Derek Forbort turned pro in 2013 after three seasons at UND.
He made his NHL debut during the 2015-16 with the Los Angeles Kings, but never suited up in a Stanley Cup Playoff game with the organization that selected him No. 15 overall in 2010.
Forbort was traded to the Calgary Flames this season, and on Saturday night, he finally made his NHL playoff debut.
Forbort played 17:15 for the Flames, who beat Winnipeg 4-1 in the Edmonton hub. Forbort was called upon frequently to kill penalties. The Flames were shorthanded seven times and killed all seven Jet power plays. Forbort played 6:42 on the penalty kill.
Prior to Saturday night, Forbort last played in the playoffs in 2016 with the Ontario (Calif.) Reign in the American Hockey League.
Game 2 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Brock Nelson, Isles take lead
Former UND forward Brock Nelson and the New York Islanders took a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five series against the Florida Panthers, winning a tight 2-1 contest in the Toronto hub.
Nelson, who played high school hockey in Warroad, didn’t have any points. He registered a team-high five shots on goal and played 16:54, more than any Islanders forward.
The seventh-seeded Islanders received a first-period goal from Jean-Gabriel Pageau and a second-period goal from Anthony Beauvillier. The 10th-seeded Panthers received a third-period goal from Jonathan Huberdeau.
Game 2 is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Nick Schmaltz questionable
Former UND forward Nick Schmaltz did not practice for the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday and has been listed as questionable for Sunday’s Game 1 against the Nashville Predators.
Schmaltz was on the receiving hit to the head from Vegas forward Ryan Reaves during an exhibition game this week.
Schmaltz had 11 goals and 45 points in 70 regular-season games for Arizona.
1 p.m. — Arizona Coyotes (Nick Schmaltz) vs. Nashville Predators (Rocco Grimaldi), USA, Game 1
2 p.m. — Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, NBC, Round robin seeding game
5:30 p.m. — St. Louis Blues (Austin Poganski) vs. Colorado Avalanche (Tyson Jost), NBC Sports, Round robin seeding game
7 p.m. — Toronto Maple Leafs (Dave Hakstol) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL Network, Game 1
9:30 p.m. — Minnesota Wild (Zach Parise, Luke Johnson) vs. Vancouver Canucks (Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher), NBC Sports, Game 1