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Hawks' defense sets tone as it frustrates opponents
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

The Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook checks St. Louis Blues' Andy McDonald during the third period of Wednesday's game.


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Published: 12/17/2009 2:48 PM

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Blackhawks game day

Boston Bruins at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WGN 720-AM

What to watch: The Hawks are coming off back-to-back shutouts of Tampa Bay and St. Louis and haven't allowed a goal in 141 minutes, 21 seconds. The Bruins (16-10-6) lead the NHL in penalty killing but come in banged up on defense without Dennis Wideman and Mark Stuart.

Last season: Boston beat the Hawks twice - once in a shootout and 5-2 with Cristobal Huet in net.

Next: Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, 6 p.m. Sunday.

While the offense has been up and down and the power play spotty, the one constant with the Blackhawks has been strong team defense.

Only twice since the middle of October have the Hawks allowed more than 3 goals in a game, and of one of those was shootout loss at Colorado with a team goal being awarded to the Avalanche.

"Everyone is contributing," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's important to realize if you play good defense you're going to be in every hockey game."

Several factors make the Hawks so strong defensively, but it starts with Quenneville's puck possession system, which begins in their own end with the defensemen.

The other team can't score if it doesn't have the puck and there isn't a better group of defensemen in the NHL at controlling the flow than the Hawks' six of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Cam Barker and Brent Sopel.

"Our team game complements getting the puck back and we've improved that part of our game this year," Quenneville said.

"It's all about puck possession," goalie Cristobal Huet said. "The way we play, we're a tough team to play against."

New York Rangers coach John Tortorella lamented after his team's 2-1 loss at the United Center last week that the Hawks had the puck the whole night and that his club wasn't strong enough to get it back.

The Blues had a similar problem in Wednesday's 3-0 loss.

"Chicago's a hard team to play against," Blues defenseman Daryl Sydor said.

The Hawks have been getting great goaltending over the last few weeks and take a shutout streak of 141 minutes, 21 seconds into Friday night's game against Boston at the UC.

Huet has lowered his goals-against average to 2.09 while Antti Niemi is at 1.50 in eight appearances.

Keith and Seabrook continue to dominate games while playing big matchup minutes against the top lines in the league.

"We can rely on Dunc and Seabs every game," Huet said. "They've been terrific."

Of the Hawks' top four defensemen, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson are plus-11 while Keith and Campbell are plus-9.

"We want to keep getting up that plus-minus chart, and obviously we want to help on the offense, but we're not going to let it sacrifice what we're doing on the back end," Campbell said.

The Hawks still aren't scoring as often as they would like, but 7 goals in the last two games is a step in the right direction.

"We're still a little below, but it's better than we saw over that stretch where our production was very slight and almost non-existent," Quenneville said. "I still think there's a lot of production left in us. We have a lot of weapons and I don't think we should be satisfied thinking three (goals) is enough some nights."

Friday night's game against Boston starts a stretch of four in six nights against elite teams projected before the season to be Stanley Cup contenders. The Red Wings come to town on Sunday night followed by San Jose on Tuesday.

Then it's a rematch with Detroit at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday.

"All we can do is take them as they come," Campbell said.

"We've got a tough stretch of games coming up, but this (two-game winning streak) gives us a little momentum knowing we have to be good," Quenneville said.

• Cam Barker suffered a lower body injury in the win over St. Louis that Joel Quenneville didn't believe to be serious. A decision on Barker's status for the Bruins likely will be made following the morning skate.