ST. PAUL, Minn. — It all goes back to what Marian Hossa said following the Blackhawks’ first-round series victory over the Nashville Predators.
Many of the questions involved the team’s goaltending situation, which flip-flopped between Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, with Crawford winning the job back at the end of the series. Regardless of who was in net, however, the Blackhawks had a problem: as Hossa said, when it came to team defense, they were not helping their goaltenders.
They’re helping out plenty now.
The Blackhawks’ team defense has done an about face against the Minnesota Wild, limiting shots and limiting great scoring chances en route to taking a 3-0 second-round series edge.
In their first three games against Nashville, the Blackhawks allowed 11 goals. In these first three games against the Wild, the Blackhawks have allowed just four goals. Even that number is a bit skewed: the Blackhawks have allowed just one Wild goal since the halfway point of Game 2, a scoreless streak of seven-and-a-half periods.
[MORE HAWKS: Crawford, Blackhawks shut out Wild in Game 3]
“We did a lot of good things, obviously, to limit their opportunities tight,” Duncan Keith said. “When they did get chances, Crow was big for us.”
So what’s changed from Round 1 to Round 2? The Blackhawks have talked about how pushing for plays can lead to mistakes, and they may have been doing that too much against the Predators. Ultimately, they’re also supporting each other more, defensemen helping forwards and vice-versa.
“I think it starts with an awareness of being above pucks and keeping yourself in plays, putting the pucks in good areas late in shifts,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think trying to be creative on the offensive side of things sometimes can lead to exposing ourselves defensively and that’s something against this team that can lead you in the wrong way. We’ve done a pretty good job of knowing the difference between making a play and making a simple play and when we’re simpler I think we’re more effective.”
Crawford got plenty of accolades following his shutout on Tuesday night, but the defense in front of him deserved credit, too. Some great opportunities got through, but not nearly as many as against Nashville. If there were rebounds, the Blackhawks cleared them out of harm’s way. As Brent Seabrook said, the team couldn’t keep putting the onus on one guy.
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“It’s a team effort,” he said. “We love Crow; it was a tough couple of games for him but that being said, we didn’t do much to help him, either. We have to be better in front of him and he’ll make the saves we need to stay in games. We have to tighten up in front of him and I think wehave. We have to keep getting better at that.”
It was going to take a team effort to combat the Wild. The Blackhawks are getting that again, especially on defense.
“I feel like we’re better on the back check, we’re forcing them to make plays that aren’t there,” Andrew Shaw said. “We’ve just tightened everything up defensively. Corey’s standing on his head and we’re getting those rebounds out of there as best as we can.”