Blackhawks

Blackhawks playing strong team defense again

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Blackhawks playing strong team defense again

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.

[SHOP: Get a Corey Crawford jersey here]

“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.”

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

He’s back.

Corey Crawford was officially activated from injured reserve on Thursday and will start in goal for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes.

"It’s exciting," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to it and we’re all excited about it as well. It’ll be a fun situation for the guys, seeing him back in the net as well. So we’re looking for everyone to be excited about tonight’s game."

The two-time Stanley Cup champion was medically cleared to practice from his concussion on Oct. 1, but the Blackhawks wanted to give Crawford as much time as he needed to get his conditioning and puck-tracking skills up to game speed before putting him into game action.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said on Wednesday. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. It was a pretty long process. ... Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

To make room for Crawford on the 23-man roster, the Blackhawks have assigned forward Luke Johnson to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Brandon Saad, who wore a white healthy scratch jersey all week at practice, will take his spot in the lineup.

For now, the Blackhawks will hang on to Anton Forsberg and carry three goaltenders as insurance as they get ready to start a seven-games-in-11-days stretch.

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season. The Blackhawks were 17-30-8 without him and finished last in the Central Division.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: