Blackhawks playing strong team defense again


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.”

Patrick Kane finishes NHL All-Star Tournament with two goals


Patrick Kane finishes NHL All-Star Tournament with two goals

Patrick Kane made his ninth NHL All-Star appearance in Saturday's 3-on-3 tournament in St. Louis. It was short-lived, but the superstar forward scored two impressive goals for the Central Division's team before they were eliminated after one game. 

The 31-year-old winger won the inaugural "Shooting Stars" challenge in the Skills Competition on Friday, beating the Blues' Ryan O'Reilly and Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner in sudden death. 

Then, the three-time Stanley Cup champ scored to tie the game 3-3 at 7:18 of the first period for the Central in the semifinal bout against the Pacific. Kane kept the puck on a 2-on-1 with Eric Staal and fired it in stick side on goalie Jacob Markstrom. 

He later scored on a breakaway, shooting five-hole on David Rittich to tie it 5-5 at 1:37 of the second period. The Central lost the contest 10-5 and missed out on winning the million dollar prize. 

Kane, who recorded his 1,000th NHL point last Sunday, had four hometown Blues players as teammates: Jordan Binnington, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and O'Reilly.

The Atlantic beat the Metropolitan 9-5 in the first semifinal game. Former Blackhawks forward Anthony Duclair had three goals and an assist in the first game of the tourney. Duclair has 33 points (21 goals, 12 assists) in 47 games with the Ottawa Senators this season.

The Pacific, who has won the past two tournaments, will take on the Atlantic in the final. 

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Anthem singer Wayne Messmer talks 1991 NHL All-Star Game rendition

Anthem singer Wayne Messmer talks 1991 NHL All-Star Game rendition

Wayne Messmer, the National Anthem singer from the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, chatted with NBC Sports Chicago on the Blackhawks Talk podcast about one of the most iconic moments in Chicago sports history.

On Jan. 19, 1991 the NHL All-Star Game was held at Chicago Stadium. The celebration of the league's best players commenced just two days after Operation Desert Storm began the Gulf War. 

Messmer has sung the National Anthem around Chicago for 30 years and was the Blackhawks anthem singer for 13. He notes the tradition of Hawks fans cheering the anthem began ahead of a 1985 playoff contest, with Chicago down 2-0 in the series to the Edmonton Oilers.

"It had been a little noisy when Hawks had played Vancouver," Messmer said. "Perhaps the year before or even in '83, but it was really games 3 and 4 of that series, the conference finals against Gretzky and the gang from Edmonton, where it began."

Messmer believes the '91 All-Star anthem was the hockey universe's introduction to Chicago's way of enjoying the Star Spangled Banner.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "Because it was a few weeks earlier there was a game on that was televised nationally from the stadium and the decision was, 'Do not carry the anthem.' There was kind of a pushback, especially from the fans. 

"So when they announced NBC was going to cover both anthems, it was like a challenge to the fans, 'Let's show them how it's done here.' And the signs and the flares and the sparklers and all of that, it was Twilight Zone surreal. You had to pinch yourself because it was really happening.

"And trying to get through that as a vocalist isn't easy because you got a huge, emotional lump in your throat. You want to be a part of that, but you're the guy that's got to light the wick."

The singer was able to take in the moment despite his monumental duty that day.

"I was certainly soaking it in," Messmer said. "I've always, as I will describe it, 'lived life with my eyes open.' But, I will tell you, it took enormous concentration. And I'm not saying, 'Hey, how swell I am,' but it's a technique of concentrating on technique, on breathing, on supporting and not shouting, not screaming and not trying to get louder because the crowd is getting louder." 

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