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Blackhawks put emphasis on improving penalty kill

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks were hoping to recharge their penalty kill in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it hasn't happened in the first five games of their Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators.

The Blackhawks, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, have allowed five power-play goals by the Predators in 19 times shorthanded. That's a 73.7 percent success rate, which ranks 12th among the 16 playoff teams and is about 16 percent lower than their rate most of the season.

Heading into Game 6 at United Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2), the Blackhawks know they can't keep allowing power-play goals at that rate and expect to make a deep postseason run.

"That's an area we have to get better," center Marcus Kruger said after the morning skate. "It's up to a guy like me [who needs] to be better in those areas and clean that up, because it's not good enough right now."

The struggles while shorthanded started in the final stretch of the regular season. The Blackhawks dropped from a top-five ranking to 10th in the NHL (84.4 percent) by allowing 11 goals in 37 times shorthanded during the final 15 games (70.3 percent).

Combined with what's happened against the Predators, the Blackhawks have allowed 26 power-play goals in their previous 20 games. That's a success rate of 71.4 percent in 56 times shorthanded, which would've ranked last in the NHL for a full season. For a comparison, the Buffalo Sabres ranked last in the League in penalty killing during the regular season at 75.1 percent.

Nashville has played the past three games without captain Shea Weber, who usually lines up for one-timers with his powerful slap shot. Picking up the slack is forward Colin Wilson, who's scored four of his five goals on power plays.

Wilson, who scored three power-play goals in the regular season, scored a big one in the third period of Game 5 to give Nashville a 3-1 lead. The Predators scored again 12 seconds later to effectively win the game early in the third.

"Pucks are going in, obviously, at a different rate," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of his penalty-kill units. "When you look at last game, that was a big goal for them [by Wilson]. Guy made a nice play. It was more so what we didn't do. I think we should've had a different challenge on that play. And we talk about different things and their different looks, PK-wise, but certainly it's an area that we've got to concentrate on and shore up."

The Blackhawks had outstanding penalty killing in their past two Stanley Cup championships, in 2010 and 2013. They had pedestrian numbers on their power play in those championship seasons, which shows the importance of the defensive portion of special-teams play. For what it's worth, the Blackhawks are taking the resilient approach to situation publicly.

"We can sit here and talk all day about technicalities," Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said. "I don't really think that's the issue. We know what we're doing. I think overall it's just the feeling of having the confidence of being safe and really doing the right things [on penalty kills]. Sometimes you do the right thing and they still score. They're good players out there, so just having the trust in the system and in each other, and I think we have that."

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroJames Neal

Colin WilsonMike FisherCraig Smith

Matt CullenCalle JarnkrokViktor Stalberg

Mike SantorelliPaul GaustadTaylor Beck

Roman JosiSeth Jones

Mattias EkholmCody Franson

Victor BartleyRyan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Anton Volchenkov, Viktor Arvidsson, Gabriel Bourque, Kevin Fiala, Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, Johan Alm, Anthony Bitetto, Joe Piskula, Marek Mazanec, Magnus Hellberg

Injured: Eric Nystrom (lower body), Shea Weber (lower body)

BLACKHAWKS

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Kris VersteegBrad RichardsPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellAntoine VermettePatrick Sharp

Andrew DesjardinsMarcus KrugerAndrew Shaw

Johnny OduyaNiklas Hjalmarsson

Duncan KeithMichal Rozsival

Kimmo TimonenBrent Seabrook

Scott Darling

Corey Crawford

Scratched: Joakim Nordstrom, Teuvo Teravainen, Kyle Cumiskey, David Rundblad, Michael Paliotta, Antti Raanta

Injured: Daniel Carcillo (upper body)

Status report: Bickell and Versteeg flip-flopped again during line rushes at the morning skate, reverting to the way they lined up in the first four games. … Crawford continues to show patience while backing up Darling, which doesn't surprise Quenneville. "Well, Corey's a good guy, a good teammate [and] he's a good pro," Quenneville said.

Who's hot: Seabrook has a point in three straight games, including goals in Games 3 and 4, and an assist in Game 5.

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