The Blackhawks’ defensive issues in the Western Conference Final were startling.
This team prides itself on stopping pucks, either at the goal line or before they even get that far. Against the Los Angeles Kings, however, more pucks were ending up in the back of the net than in the previous two series combined – 28 vs. the Kings, 27 vs. Minnesota and St. Louis.
On Tuesday, the Blackhawks said they have to get back to that strong defensive game in the fall.
“I always feel in this league, you win by how well you check and how well you play defensively,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our team can score enough goals to win hockey games, and in this last series we did score enough goals to win and we didn’t win. So, that’s the area (where) we’ve got to make sure that we have awareness around our net and the willingness to get there, make it hard. And (whether) it’s the bounces or clearing loose pucks, maybe (being) a little tighter in the detail department in that area could’ve been the differential.”
Niklas Hjalmarsson said it was tough to dissect why the defense went awry.
“It’s something we’ll think about,” he said. “We had leads 2-0, 3-2, 4-3; we had it in our own hands. We played a really good team and we couldn’t find a way to get that win. But it’s hard to say right now what we could’ve done differently.”
General manager Stan Bowman, however, said he’d be cautious about overreacting to that one series. Obviously, the Blackhawks gave up way too many goals. But this was the same defense that gave up an average of 2.58 goals a game in the regular season and 2.25 a game in the first two postseason rounds.
“I don’t think you can overreact to one thing. If things go the other way, we’re playing tomorrow night,” he said. “It was definitely a high-scoring western conference final. LA’s an excellent team; they can score goals. But we can, too. They were the No. 1 defensive team in the regular season and we scored an awful lot of goals as well. That’s just the way the series goes. Sometimes, playoffs and series take on different flavors so I’m not going to read too much into that. When you play against talented players, it’s hard to just shut them down. You do your best. Obviously you saw what they could accomplish. I don’t think we need to make any radical changes there.”
Perhaps nothing radical needs to be done, but the defensive failures will stick with the Blackhawks for a while.
“We just need to play better defensively as a group and as a team. It’s not one guy, not the goalie’s fault, it’s not one defenseman,” Duncan Keith said. “When you talk about a collective group, we have to look at everybody and certainly I feel I could have helped out in certain ways. You always look at yourself and look back at things. But our best bet would be to all be on the same page.”