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It's beginning to look a lot like 2013 for the Blackhawks 'D'

Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg helps out defensively in front of Antti Raanta against Toronto on Sunday. (Getty Images)

Patrick Kane’s instinct is always to attack. The fun thing to do, perhaps even the more productive thing to do, would be to hang around the blue line, read the play, anticipate a change in possession and then streak up the ice looking to get sprung on a breakaway.

And Kane still does plenty of that, when the situation calls for it. But other times, you’ll see him and the other offensive-minded Blackhawks forwards deep in their own end — supporting the defensemen in the corners and giving them easier options for outlet passes, lifting sticks from behind, blocking passing and shooting lanes. Not everybody has to be Marian Hossa or Marcus Kruger, but everybody has to chip in at least a little.

The forwards help out the defensemen. The defensemen help out the goaltender. The goaltender helps out everybody. Kane said the Hawks have “probably the best defensive corps in the league.” Brent Seabrook credited the forwards for coming back so aggressively. Corey Crawford usually can’t go three sentences without raving about “the guys in front of me.”

It’s the “team game” Joel Quenneville’s always talking about. And it’s why the Hawks — loaded with as many skill players as any team in the league — are the stingiest team in the league.

“First and foremost, when you go out there, you always want to score and you always want to create chances,” Kane said. “But it’s important to not think that way. It’s important to maybe think a little bit more defensively. Because the offense can come from good defense. Sometimes you get the puck deeper in your own end, but you come in with more speed and you might have some odd-man rushes, too. Everybody has to play a part.”

Through 35 games, the Hawks have allowed an average of 2.03 goals per game, best in the league and way down from last year’s middling 2.6. If the last month or so has started to feel a lot like the Hawks’ Stanley Cup season of 2013, there’s a good reason. They led the league that season, too, winning the Jennings Trophy by surrendering an average of 2.02 goals per game.

Perhaps most impressive is how the Hawks have been able to shut down opponents who are chasing the lead and taking more chances offensively. The Hawks have given up a mere 21 goals in 35 third periods, again the best in the league. In 2013, they gave up just 35 in 48 games, third-best.

“I think it’s comparable to that year, for sure,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We’re just comfortable out there, playing in our own end when the teams are pressuring. We trust the system that we’re playing and that the coaches want us to play. Everybody in here takes pride on not being scored on.”

The Hawks have been so effective defensively, it hasn’t much mattered who’s been in goal, even when Crawford was twice injured. Crawford, Antti Raanta and rookie Scott Darling all have posted eye-popping numbers. They’ve been excellent, no doubt. But as they’ll be quick to tell you, they’ve gotten plenty of help, as the Hawks steer opponents away from the slot and force them to take lower-percentage shots from farther away.

Throw in a penalty-killing unit on a record pace (90.7 percent) and an offense that controls the puck most of the time, anyway (the Hawks average a league-best 35.2 shots per game), and there simply aren’t too many opportunities for opponents to score.

It worked in 2013. And the Hawks feel it can work again.

“We’ve got confidence in our team game right now,” Seabrook said. “We just feel like we’re going to go out there and succeed every time. When everybody’s working together, you can deal with injuries, you can slot guys in, and still continue to be successful. The whole team’s buying in right now, and it’s been great.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus