Blackhawks' defensive philosophy comes up big in playoffs

Blackhawks' defensive philosophy comes up big in playoffs
May 10, 2013, 10:15 am
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Coach Joel Quenneville politely answered questions regarding the Chicago Blackhawks’ offense. These guys scoring their first postseason goals, this guy getting his fifth of the postseason.

That was all fine and good. But to Quenneville, it wasn’t about what the Blackhawks put up on their end of the scoreboard. It was what they didn’t allow on the other side of it.

The Blackhawks clinched their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, and for the most part they did it with defense. The Blackhawks allowed just seven Wild goals over those five games, denying Minnesota with a combination of great goaltending, penalty killing and shot blocking.

“In this series, you can talk about our defense more than anything as far as getting the attention that’s deserved,” Quenneville said. “Different nights some guys score, and some lines are more productive offensively. But at the end of the day, from the goalie out to the D, it was more those guys who stood out.”

[MORE: Blackhawks rout Wild, advance to Western Conference semifinals]

Indeed, it was hard to argue. Corey Crawford was stellar, and entering Friday night’s games he sits atop the league with a 1.32 goals-against average. He’s also tied with Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson with a .950 save percentage.

But it went beyond goaltending. The penalty kill went 17 for 17, topping the league through this first round. The defensemen did their job throughout the series. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who drew the task of defending the Wild’s top guys, were big in shutting them down. And forwards continued to help the defensive cause.

“(The forwards) have been great for us all season getting back pressure, putting pressure on their forwards by getting behind them and taking away their fourth, fifth guys coming in,” Brent Seabrook said. “They’ve given us a chance to stand up and have a good gap, try to poke pucks off sticks. You can’t score goals without everybody and you can’t keep them out of your net without everybody. That’s the philosophy we’ve had.”

[RELATED: Playoffs a valuable learning experience for Wild]

It’s been a good working philosophy, and it’s something that was missing for the Blackhawks last season. They struggled in many defensive categories, from goaltending to lack of support from forwards. This year, that’s all changed.

“We’ve committed to the system,” Andrew Shaw said. “We’re working for each other, our goalies have been great, the D has been clearing pucks. We have a lot of back pressure. We have to keep doing that and moving forward here.”

The Blackhawks will score their goals. It’s their ultimate calling card. But facing an opponent that allowed little wiggle room and few great scoring opportunities (until perhaps Game 5), the Blackhawks went into shutdown mode. It took the entire team buying into the defensive philosophy for it to work. Now the Blackhawks’ mentality has earned them a second-round spot.

“Crow and Ray (Emery) have had some shutouts, (Jonathan) Toews and (Marian) Hossa have scored a lot of goals,” Seabrook said. “But it’s great for the whole team to buy in (to playing defense) and that’s a key for us.”