The Blackhawks’ goaltending switcheroo was a big story through the first round. First it was Corey Crawford, then Scott Darling, then Crawford again.
Some of the switching was done because of the goaltender’s performance, but mostly, those changes occurred more because of the guys in front of the goalies.
“We have to do a better job defensively,” Marian Hossa said. “Because we don’t help our goalies much.”
And there it was, in all its honesty, following the Blackhawks’ series-clinching victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Because outside of a few periods in that series against the Predators, the Blackhawks’ team defense struggled. And it has to be better heading into the second-round series against the Minnesota Wild.
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The Predators fired 232 shots over six games, an average of 38.7 shots per game. Keep in mind two of those games went multiple overtimes, so that makes a difference. Still, it wasn’t as much the number of shots as the quality of shots the Blackhawks allowed. The first few minutes of that final game were a good example: Over those opening Game 6 minutes, James Neal and Matt Cullen faced little resistance en route to the Blackhawks net.
The Blackhawks’ team defense was at its best at the end, seemingly prompted by Crawford replacing Darling midway through the first period of Game 6 on Saturday night. After allowing 12 shots during Darling’s time — the first 11 minutes, 16 seconds of the game — the Blackhawks allowed just 13 shots the rest of the way.
“Better on all aspects of our game, be it 5-on-5, defensive zone, neutral zone, offensive zone,” coach Joel Quenneville said on what has to improve. “We had a couple of bad starts. We can’t give up 3-1, 3-0 leads and (hope to) come back and win two games in a series. Hopefully that’s the lesson.”
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Duncan Keith agreed.
“It isn’t fair to the goalie how we played, Corey the first few times, Darls (on Saturday night),” Keith said. “We know we have great goaltending. It’s not that; it’s how we play in front of him. We pulled it together because that’s not acceptable.”
The Blackhawks pulled it together in the closing periods against the Predators. They played the type of team defense that’s become synonymous with them. That’s the type of defense they’ll need if they want to keep going further, too.
“There are certain periods of time when, I wouldn’t call it soppy, but we’re not responsible in our zone,” Hossa said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the net; it’s tough for them to stop everything. When we play tighter defensively we play a better team game.”