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Blackhawks' comeback fueled by defense corps

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Were it not for the play of their defense corps, the Chicago Blackhawks' reign as Stanley Cup champion might well be over.

Chicago has won back-to-back games to tie the best-of-7 Western Conference Final at 3-3 and force Game 7 on Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The Blackhawks' defense has played a big role in the comeback.

Duncan Keith scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 6, Brent Seabrook recorded his fifth multi-point game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with two assists in that game, and Johnny Oduya scored a goal and assisted on another in Chicago's 5-4 double-overtime victory in Game 5. Niklas Hjalmarsson has become a shutdown, shot-blocking defender, Nick Leddy is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and there's a solid veteran presence provided next to him by either Michael Rozsival or Sheldon Brookbank.

In Game 6 at Staples Center, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville even started Brookbank up front on the fourth line to help out the overall defensive effort.

Chicago's talent and depth on the blue line and its attention to detail on defense have impressed Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter.

"I think what happens is, and it's happened in this series, is you get asked about matchups and you have to remember there's five people on the ice at once, not just three," Sutter said Saturday after the Kings arrived in Chicago. "So it's not just a line matchup. It's a defensemen matchup, and when you look at their defensemen, that's a perfect group in terms of … there's a good reason why they won the Stanley Cup two of the last (four) years and why they're in the conference finals again.

"They don't get enough credit. One guy, you know, Duncan Keith, gets a lot of credit, as he should and he'll probably win the [Norris Trophy], but that's a pretty good group right there. If you've got them six hooked onto a wagon, they're going to pull the wagon all the way to Peoria from here."

When a reporter responded, "That's a long way," Sutter replied: "They'll get it there."

The same can be said about the Blackhawks as a whole, according to Quenneville. In the past five seasons, Chicago has given its fans numerous memorable moments just by being one of the most resilient teams in the League.

If the Blackhawks can complete the series comeback against the Kings with a victory on Sunday, they'll become the only team in NHL history to come back from 3-1 deficits to win in consecutive postseasons. It doesn't happen very often, and yet here the Blackhawks stand one win from another improbable accomplishment.

How do they continue to overcome long odds?

"Competitive guys," Quenneville said. "They find a way. They overcome a lot of different challenges. They want to win. Last night's a good example, [and] Game 5, same situation, down [in both] third periods and it doesn't look good. They don't change their approach. We know we have some guys that can make plays and have some ability to score, and it's always there, as well. We're playing a really good team that has a lot of similar attributes we do, but I commend the guys for what they've accomplished and how they handle big situations."

One of those big situations was last season's overtime win in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings, which capped a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. Hjalmarsson, who had a potential game-winning goal waived off late in regulation of that game, said he gets a daily reminder every time he steps in the locker room.

"I still have a mark in my stall from the intermission," he said Saturday, after returning from Los Angeles. "It reminds me every day I go to my stall. Hopefully I can get one of those allowed."

Asked what caused the damage, a stick or a fist, Hjalmarsson smiled.

"No comment," he said.

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