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Blackhawks will play top-seeded Golden Knights — and a familiar face — in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs

Phil Thompson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Hockey

The Chicago Blackhawks have drawn the Las Vegas Golden Knights as their first-round opponent in the NHL playoffs, thanks to Las Vegas' 3-2 win Saturday in the decisive round-robin game to set the top seed in the Western Conference.

The Hawks upset the Oilers as the 12th seed Friday, clinching their best-of-five qualifying series in four games. Now Chicago becomes the eighth seed in the West as they join the field of 16 for this year's playoffs.

In a bit of irony, the seeding pits the Hawks against Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner, whom they traded in February when it looked as if Chicago was a longshot to make the playoffs. But then the COVID-19 pause happened in March, the NHL set an expanded 24-team format for the postseason and fate took care of the rest in the qualifiers.

"It's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them and their whole organization. But I really like it here, I think we're a great hockey team and we'll do well against them."

The Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche entered Saturday's matchup with each having won both of their first two round-robin games. They waged a seesaw battle through the first two periods, but in the third Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves swept Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault's legs from under him on a breakaway, and Marchessault scored the go-ahead goal on the penalty shot.

But Avalanche forward J.T. Compher wristed a goal with just over a minute remaining in the game to force overtime.

With 15.9 seconds remaining in the extra period, Golden Knights winger Alex Tuch roofed the game-winner against Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

Against Colorado Saturday, Lehner made 32 saves and allowed three goals. He had a .914 save percentage.

 

The Golden Knights win came after what has been dubbed "Black Friday" as the Montreal Canadiens also stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance as the East's eighth seed. And the Arizona Coyotes also spoiled the Nashville Predators' series and will take on the Avalanche, Saturday's loser, as the West's seventh seed.

Now that the dust has settled, the Blackhawks will see Lehner, who splits duties with Marc-Andre Fleury. He had a .918 save percentage and 3.01 goals against average in the 33 games he played for Chicago. The Golden Knights expect to continue that dual approach in the playoffs.

"We haven't even thought about Game 1 yet," Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said, "but if we get to where we want to go, I guarantee we will use both guys."

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