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Defense shake-up boosts Blackhawks to Game 5 win

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- A lot of words are written each season about Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville changing the make-up of his forward lines, but he's not against shaking up his defense pairs either.

Last season, facing a 3-1 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals, he fiddled with his top two pairs before Game 5 at United Center. He reunited longtime partners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as the top pair, and they stayed together through Chicago's run to the 2013 Stanley Cup championship.

Quenneville was at it again Wednesday. Down 3-1 in the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, he split up Keith and Seabrook prior to Game 5 of the best-of-7 series.

Once again, the shake-up seemed to work; the Blackhawks won 5-4 in double overtime to stave off elimination.

"Well, you needed to change something, maybe, to wake us up a little bit," said Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya, who started the game playing with Michal Rozsival on the third pair but finished paired with Seabrook. "Sometimes that works. I think it worked pretty good [tonight]. We're comfortable, obviously, with different types of pairings. We had more than half the playoffs last year like that, so it's something good. Now let's just keep going."

Quenneville moved up Niklas Hjalmarsson from the second pair to play with Keith on the top pair. The two played together almost the entire second half of the 2012-13 regular season and in the first round in the 2013 playoffs.

Seabrook was paired with Nick Leddy as the second pair most of the game. Leddy moved down to the third pair with Rozsival once the game went to overtime.

Oduya and Seabrook produced for Chicago in Game 5. They scored back-to-back goals early in the first period for a 2-0 lead. Seabrook scoring on a power play off a slap shot from the point at 1:13, and Oduya scoring at 3:40 off a rebound of Patrick Kane's shot. Oduya also added a secondary assist on the game-tying goal by Ben Smith 1:17 into the third to get the game to overtime.

"Sometimes a little bit of a change goes a long way," Oduya said. "In an important game like this, we need the (defense) to be jumping and need the [defensemen] to be involved in the offense, and if we can get some production from that, that's good."

It wasn't a perfect night for Chicago's defense, which again blew some coverage assignments on Los Angeles goals, but it was a good change overall. Quenneville also put together a new second forward line that sparkled, creating the game-winning goal by Michal Handzus 2:04 into double OT, but the defensive shake-up seemed to work.

"We didn't like the last three games, almost exactly like last year, [down] 3-1, changed (the) pairs back," Quenneville said. "The ones we had tonight were basically the ones most of last year, so not that they were unfamiliar."

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