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The Chicago Blackhawks started out this season by earning points in their first 24 games, but the last six games really have really set the narrative that they are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup championship. They won all six of those contests, all against teams that are either fighting for their playoff lives (Nashville, Dallas) or against teams looking to improve their seedings (Minnesota, St. Louis).
One of the hallmarks of this winning streak has been the team’s suffocating defense. The goaltending of Ray Emery and Corey Crawford has been largely effective during the run, but the team is absolutely dominating puck possession and preventing shots in front of both goalies, as evidenced by this chart:
The one number that really sticks out here is how thoroughly the Hawks are locking teams down in the first period. Not allowing opponents to get into their offensive rhythm is a critical component this time of year, and outside of some crazy first periods against Detroit and St. Louis, the Hawks have done exactly that. They have twice held opponents to only four shots, including Monday against a Stars team that had won five games in a row.
Perhaps just as intriguing is how well the Hawks have played in the third period. Before this recent run, the Hawks had coughed up several third period leads, and many thought that could be a potential Achilles heel in the playoffs, but those doubts largely have been erased. Outside of 12 shots against St. Louis, the Hawks have offensively stifled teams to the tune of allowing fewer than eight shots per third period, and that is an excellent testament to the team’s blue line corps.
Credit must also be given to the aggressive forecheck of the Blackhawks’ forwards. Jonathan Toews has been a leader in that regard, but players like Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell have stepped up their games in this regard as well.