Once again Blackhawks defend rather than dictate with late lead

Once again Blackhawks defend rather than dictate with late lead
April 22, 2014, 2:45 pm
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The waning minutes seemed to last forever on Monday night.

Once again, the Blackhawks were precariously clinging to a one-goal lead against the St. Louis Blues. Once again, they were defending more than dictating. The Blackhawks held on for a Game 3 victory, their first in this best-of-seven series that continues Wednesday with Game 4. But they know they can’t play the final minutes like they’re on an extended penalty kill (unless they are, as they were in Game 2). They need to apply the pressure more, not get into the late-regulation habit of withstanding it.

“We should be very happy having a lead at that stage of the game, but we can be better,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “In all the third periods with the lead, that's when they were coming and pressing, and we didn't generate a whole lot. We'd like to have more offensive zone time in that situation, but certainly we liked the fact we had the lead.”

Michal Handzus agreed.

“Obviously they’re a great team, and they had a lot of desperation in the third,” Handzus said of the Blues, down just 1-0 until Marcus Kruger’s empty-net goal with 19.6 seconds left in regulation. “We’ve played the puck-possession game before, but (Monday) we were losing the puck a lot and flipping the puck back and they were coming out with high speed. We have to manage the puck a little better put it deep and play in their zone more.”

[MORE: Blackhawks power play continues to struggle despite victory]

Kruger said it was discussed.

“We talked about it and wanted to hold it tight the last ten minutes, but maybe we got a little bit defensive,” he said. “(Corey Crawford) was great in the net, and it felt good to get the win the way we did — good defense and scoring two goals.”

It’s not unusual to see a team settle into defensive mode when holding a lead; but doing it against a team like the Blues is dangerous. The Blackhawks found that out in their first two games, when a determined Blues group scored late-regulation goals (on a power play in Game 2) to force overtime. The Blackhawks want to be more proactive in future contests.

“It’s just tightening up zone a little bit and getting the puck out of our zone a little cleaner,” said Sheldon Brookbank, who played in place of the suspended Brent Seabrook on Monday. “The less time we spend in our zone the (fewer) opportunities they’re going to have. They got a lot of shots on the power play and stuff like that. You don’t necessarily look at the shot totals as an indication of the game, but they had some chances. Chances are going to happen, but we’re going to lock it down in our own zone more and keep them out of there.”