Bruins-Blackhawks Preview

Skilled offensive play has been credited with the Chicago

Blackhawks’ revival, but superb defensive play may be what has

turned them into a bona fide contender in the Western

Conference.

The Blackhawks will try for a third consecutive shutout Friday

night when they host the Boston Bruins in an Original Six

matchup.

Chicago (21-8-3) is off to its best start since 1982-83,

boasting two of the NHL’s top young offensive talents in right wing

Patrick Kane and center Jonathan Toews. The 21-year-olds have

combined for 19 goals and 54 points as the Blackhawks try to build

off their West finals appearance from last season.

However, improved defensive play may be the key to Chicago

ending Detroit’s eight-season stranglehold on the Central

Division.

The Blackhawks have allowed a league-low 67 goals behind stellar

play from goaltenders Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi.

The duo has combined for back-to-back shutouts after Huet made

27 saves and Kane matched a career high with three assists in

Wednesday’s 3-0 win over St. Louis. That came three days after

Niemi stopped 18 shots in a 4-0 victory against Tampa Bay.

The back-to-back shutouts were the first by two Chicago goalies

since Tony Esposito and Murray Bannerman did it in March 1983.

Huet is 15-7-2 and ranks among the NHL leaders with a 2.09

goals-against average with two shutouts, while Niemi is 6-1-1 with

a 1.50 GAA and three shutouts in eight games.

Huet credits his teammates for the defensive success.

“The way we play, it’s tough to play against,” Huet said. “It’s

puck possession. We try to make a play where we keep control of the

puck and eventually make a play to the net. The other thing is, we

put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks have been dominant at home, leading the NHL with

a 14-3-1 record while winning 11 of 12 at the United Center.

They’ve outscored opponents 9-1 during a three-game winning streak

there.

Chicago, though, has dropped four in a row to the Bruins,

including a 2-1 shootout defeat at home Nov. 12, 2008.

The Blackhawks hope their strong defensive play can take

advantage of the Bruins, who have given up leads in consecutive

losses, totaling three goals in those defeats. Boston tallied 12

goals to win its previous two contests.

The Bruins failed to hold a 1-0 lead in the third period Monday,

losing 3-1 to Philadelphia in a preview of the Winter Classic to be

played at Fenway Park on Jan. 1.

“When teams are struggling and a number of points behind you,

you want to keep them down,” forward Mark Recchi said. “They were a

little bit more desperate than us. They looked like a team that

wanted to get out of their doldrums, and we looked like a team that

was content.”

David Krejci will try to rebound against Chicago after being

held without a point Monday. The center had two goals and three

assists the previous three games after totaling three goals and

nine assists in his first 26.