Golden Knights prove too big, too deep for Blackhawks to handle in Round 1

Alex Tuch scored the winning goal in the third period as the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 5 to advance.

EDMONTON — Alex Tuch’s game-winner told the story of the Vegas Golden Knights versus the Chicago Blackhawks, a series that was never going to be much more than fly versus windshield.

Tuch — a thick, six-foot-four, 220-pound winger — went wide on undersized Blackhawks defenceman Adam Boqvist — a five-foot-10, 180-pound Swedish youngster. The Vegas forward elbowed his way around Boqvist like a guy leaning on a revolving door, stuffing a puck past the beleaguered Corey Crawford for the goal that made it 4-3 Vegas.

That score held up, ending a five-game Round 1 series in which Chicago didn’t pose much trouble for Vegas. The Blackhawks were simply too small and not deep enough to handle what Vegas brought to the table.

“He’s impossible to stop when he has that attack attitude that he’s had the entire series,” said Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer of Tuch. “He was dangerous the entire series. Every time he touched the ice he was a handful for them to contain.”

It was the size difference — and depth in size and skill — that made Vegas simply too much for the Blackhawks in a series that featured three one-goal games, all won by the Golden Knights. Vegas, the first team to go through to Round 2, just came in too many waves for the Blackhawks to hold on.

“Most of the goals we got were first chance, second chance, third chance,” Mark Stone said. “Relentless. Then making them come 200 feet.”

Chicago had leads of 2-0 and 3-2, but could never quite shed the Golden Knights. The teams came out of the dressing room for the third period tied at 3-3, and Tuch bulled his way to the eventual winner just 1:34 into the period.

“We caught them on a change,” Tuch explained after the game. “I just jumped off the bench, got my legs going and took the puck to the net. Got a lucky bounce.”

Now, Vegas awaits the lowest seed to advance to the Western Conference’s Final Four. And they’ll do so in tedium of the bubble, where they have resided for three full weeks as of this past Sunday.

It will be a task no coaching staff has ever had to deal with, keeping their team from going stir crazy while awaiting Round 2 to start. Usually, a coach like DeBoer would send his players home for two days of family time, so they could recharge for the next round.

Not this year.

“We’re going to have to manage it. It looks like it will be probably a week,” DeBoer said. “There were 24 teams here a couple of weeks ago, and we know we’re in the final eight now. It’s a nice problem to have, and hopefully, it will guarantee we go into the next round healthy.”

An interesting stat: The Blackhawks were 89-8-5 all-time when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both score a goal in the same game in the regular season; 6-0 in playoffs, entering tonight. That stat went sour in Game 5, when both Blackhawks stars beat Robin Lehner, the goalie who was dealt from Chicago to Vegas at the trade deadline.

“It’s a bit weird playing your old team,” Lehner admitted afterwards. “That group is a helluva group – they treated me well. I have a lot of friends on that team.”

The Blackhawks will see progress in the fact they entered the expanded playoffs as a No. 12 seed and walked through the fifth-seeded Edmonton Oilers, giving ‘Hawks fans a moment they have not enjoyed for a while. There is an older championship core here, joined now by a young group led by Kirby Dach, Alex Debrincat, Dominik Kubalik and an inexperienced defence that performed better than most expected here in Edmonton.

“It was definitely good for us to get back in the playoffs and play meaningful games,” Toews said. “When you miss the playoffs a couple of years in a row, you’re watching a lot of hockey late in the spring and you lose track of where you stand because there’s no doubt it’s a different level from the regular season. I think there’s some benefit there for the veteran guys as well.”

It’s on to Round 2 for Vegas, a team that stakes its claim as a Cup contender once again.

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