SAN JOSE, Calif. — There has been one bright spot for the Blackhawks amid their playoff hopes unraveling: They’ve played their best defense of the season.
Whether it has been the playoff-like tension or a legitimate step forward — or likely a combination of both — the Hawks allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the NHL in the last two weeks.
‘‘It feels better,’’ defenseman Connor Murphy said before a game against the Sharks late Thursday. ‘‘We had spurts where we were scoring a ton and winning and not defending that great, but we were winning. I would take winning over anything, but it’s nice to see that part of the game look better.’’
It has been a surprising flip for the Hawks, who were among the highest-scoring teams and the most porous defenses in the last few months. Now their scrappy defense is keeping them in games, but they can’t get their offense firing.
The best they’ve played was Sunday against the Avalanche — and not only because Duncan Keith won the game for them in overtime with a takeaway and an end-to-end goal.
Of the 47 shots the Avalanche uncorked, only 20 made it all the way to goalie Corey Crawford. The Hawks blocked 23 of them, led by defenseman Brent Seabrook with five.
‘‘We did a good job of limiting them and having all five guys supporting everyone on the ice,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘When you’re doing that, it definitely helps make your defensive game better and drives your offense.
‘‘We want to continue to push and fight and get in the playoffs, and hopefully that translates into success going forward — not just this year but next year. When everybody’s buying in, it’s fun to watch, and we’re pretty good.’’
The Hawks have held opponents to an average of two goals a game since March 9 and rank 19th in shots on goal against during that span, a significant jump from being worst in the league through 65 games.
Shots on goal isn’t the defining stat for a defense, but some other numbers from this stretch illustrate modest improvement, as well.
Crawford’s return certainly has helped everything look better, and he has a stunning .948 save percentage in the last nine games. The defense also has helped him out a little. The Hawks have been 24th in high-danger scoring chances against at even strength, which is still bad, but it is a baby step after giving up by far the most in the league before this uptick.
‘‘I think we’ve been better,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘We’ve been pretty good at limiting the other teams’ opportunities, and it’s allowed us to get some points when we haven’t been scoring. But that’s what’s required. We have to play that way this time of year.’’
The question is whether they can do it regularly, and they’ll get a better chance at proving it next season.
It was a difficult adjustment to Colliton’s defensive philosophy in the middle of the season, especially with little practice time in his first month on the job. With him laying the groundwork this season and getting a full training camp to install his system next fall, though, things should be more cohesive next season.
‘‘In the season, you get a 40-minute practice every now and then, and it’s hard to change the way you’re playing,’’ Murphy said. ‘‘It’ll definitely be big to have a full training camp and get it integrated for a full season.’’