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Blackhawks Mon Jan 20 2014

Blackhawks Finally Finding Ways to Close Out Games

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png Alec Baldwin's character Blake in the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross gave a legendary motivational speech to the real estate sales team by mentioning to Shelley Levene, "coffee's for closers." In fact, the entire office was fired and they had one week to get their jobs back by simply selling: first place was a Cadillac El Dorado; second place, a set of steak knives; third place, no job. Blake had their attention, and the team at Rio Rancho Estates got right back at it.

The Blackhawks were in a similar funk of sorts, finding it tough to close out games while having a lead, or falling at the end of overtime or a shootout. Granted, no one is going to get fired from the defending Stanley Cup champs (a case certainly could be made for Nikolai Khabibulin or Michal Handzuš), but it's a safe bet Joel Quenneville's post-game locker room speeches might have been ripped from the sheets of David Mamet's play as away to "motivate" the team.

A lot of comparisons could be made from last year's Cup-winning team versus this year's squad, but one noticeable difference is the lack of winning games that require more than 60 minutes of play. Last season, the Blackhawks only had five overtime losses after 48 games compared to 10 this season after just as many games.

Including the team's recent 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on January 14, the Blackhawks were 0-5 in the extra five-minute period. The team also hasn't looked good in the shootout, losing six of 10 and Patrick Kane hadn't scored a shootout goal yet this season (0-9). But then, things finally swung in the team's favor.

Sunday morning's rematch against the Boston Bruins reminded fans how exciting that six-game series was last June between the two Original Six teams, and produced a resurgence in coach Quenneville's team to earn that extra point in extra time. The Blackhawks won the game 3-2, and Kane got his shootout goal to seal it.

While the matter of closing out games and constantly winning shootouts isn't one to berate constantly, mostly because once it's playoff time, there are no shootouts, it is necessary to at least address the situation of what it is that makes this team tick in terms of starting out hot and then cooling off at the end of a game.

One of the biggest factors of this is due to lack of hustle. The Blackhawks are one of, if not the, fastest teams in the league. Even Bryan Bickell can get his nose to the puck with a slight blast of speed when needed. But once the third period starts, the team appears to be slightly less aggressive in the defensive zone, which can create a lot of opportunities for a high-scoring team, just like it did for the Anaheim Ducks back on January 17.

The Blackhawks went up 3-0 with Bickell's goal about halfway through the third period, but then Ryan Getzlaf and Kyle Palmieri made it interesting by closing the gap to one goal. The second goal by Palmieri was a softy given up by Crawford, so he's just as much to blame as anyone. But Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig basically let Palmieri waltz right through the middle of the rink for his wrister and that's as unacceptable as it gets.

Tightening up a little at the end of games is something the Blackhawks will need to work on a little come mid-April, and there's no doubt once the playoffs start the defense will ratchet things up a bit. But closing lanes, better puck clearing and wanting to control the puck the last 10 minutes of a game only will help the Blackhawks close and earn a second helping to another Cup.

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