Blackhawks Come Up Short Against Lehner, Golden Knights in Game 1

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The Blackhawks mustered up just 20 shots on goal — which tied a season-low — in the opening Game 1 vs. Vegas.

The Chicago Blackhawks lost Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series to the No. 1-seeded Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 on Tuesday night. Forward Reilly Smith led the way for the Golden Knights with two goals and an assist, while former Blackhawks goaltender Robin Lehner stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced in net for the win.

“I know a lot of their tendencies and know what they’re trying to do on the powerplay, but it becomes a little bit of reverse psychology,” Lehner said. “I knew they were going to mix it up on me, and on all the in-tight chances, they tried to go five-hole. I kind of anticipated that before the game. Next game, they’ll probably try something else.”

After a scoreless and frankly dull first period, defenseman Shea Theodore opened the scoring for Vegas with a wrist shot from the right circle past Corey Crawford’s glove. The 35-year-old was tremendous in Friday’s close-out victory against the Edmonton Oilers, but he got off to a rocky start in the first round by allowing Theodore to score a weak goal mid-way through the contest.

Just over two minutes later, the Golden Knights fourth line cashed in for a greasy goal to double their lead as William Carrier stuffed home a loose puck off a Ryan Reaves shot from the left circle. Vegas’ head coach Peter DeBoer surprisingly started the Carrier-Roy-Reaves trio on Tuesday, and that line was a weapon for him all game long, as they have been so far in the 2020 postseason.

After the Blackhawks unsuccessfully challenged Carrier’s goal for offsides (borderline call), karma worked its magic, and David Kampf scored a shorthanded goal on a wrist shot to make it 2-1 at 10:51 of the second period. Brandon Saad made a tremendous play in the offensive zone to win a battle against Theodore and leave the puck for Kampf, who then roofed a wrist shot past Lehner for his first career postseason goal.

The Blackhawks would go quiet on offense though after Kampf’s shorthanded tally, as they put just six shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and did not generate any sustained pressure. Smith would go on to make it 3-1 Vegas with a wrist shot from the right circle that trickled in off Crawford’s shoulder, and that essentially put the nail in the coffin for the Blackhawks.

“Overall, we played pretty well,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said. “There was a seven-minute stretch of the third where we weren’t very good — we started cheating to try and score. We’re going to have to be more patient to win this series.”

Smith would go on to extend the lead to 4-1 with a backhand goal in transition, but the game was essentially in the books at that point. The Blackhawks did not play horribly in Game 1, but they certainly need to clean up their game in all three zones to right this ship before this series is over in a hurry.

“We know it’s going to be a grind,” Colliton said. “They’re an excellent team. They’re going to make you work for your chances, and we’ve got to make them work for theirs. I thought, for the most part, we did that. We’ve got to understand that’s what’s required to win.”

One bright spot from the loss is that the Blackhawks did hit three goalposts on the night, including one from Jonathan Toews that he buries more times than not. Two of Vegas’ four goals in the game were also ones that Crawford stops most nights, so there definitely is hope for the Blackhawks going forward in this series.

“We have a great opportunity here. The first game is under our belts,” said Duncan Keith, who was a minus-four in Game 1. “We’re right there. It’s one game. I don’t think we’re happy with the game, but we know that we can be better.”

Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Blackhawks and Golden Knights is on Thursday, Aug. 13, at 4:30 p.m. (CT). The contest is scheduled to be broadcasted on NBCSN, NBCSNCH, SN360, TVAS, and ATTSN-RM.

For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author (@TalkinHawkey) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s daily podcast, Locked On Blackhawks, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@LO_Blackhawks).

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Born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Diehard Blackhawks and Cubs fan. Former high school baseball player. Studied Mass Media Communication and Psychology at the University of Missouri.