Before Thursday’s Game 4 against the Wild, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville lauded his team for its relentlessness in seizing a 3-0 lead in the second round of the playoffs. “The group that’s been here most of the years we’ve had success, they’re competitors,” he said. “They want to win. They want to bring the best out of one another.”
While his players happily accepted the compliment, they were quick to point out that they are a reflection of their coach. With Thursday’s 4-3 victory and a four-game sweep of the Wild, the Blackhawks moved on to the Western Conference finals for the fifth time in Quenneville’s seven seasons. As he had throughout the second round, Quenneville practically glowed with intensity from the drop of the puck at Xcel Energy Center — and that, his players said, is part of the reason the Blackhawks are poised for another deep run through the playoffs.
The sweep improved Quenneville’s postseason record with the Blackhawks to 65-39, the highest playoff winning percentage in franchise history. His 107 career playoff victories and 754 career regular-season victories are the third-most in NHL history.
Quenneville endeared himself to Chicago fans by winning Stanley Cups in 2010 and 2013. He has endeared himself to his players as well. By stressing defense, concocting well-crafted game plans and clearly defining roles, Quenneville created a blueprint that knit a constellation of stars into a postseason supernova that now has a 12-3 playoff record against the Wild in the past three years.
“When he took the team over, he gave us a lot of structure,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp said. “We had some younger players who were all kind of evolving into NHLers and had some raw talent. He put it all together.
“We could go on and on about what he brings to the team. He’s one of the best coaches. History shows that. His record shows that. And we’re lucky to have him behind the bench.”
Quenneville, 56, came to Chicago in 2008 and has compiled a record of 317-155-64. His .650 winning percentage in the regular season and his 65 playoff victories also are records for a franchise that dates to 1926.
He began developing his theories during 13 seasons as an NHL defenseman. Quenneville stresses defense first — not always an easy sell to a roster rich with talent — yet gives his stars freedom on offense, a philosophy that has gotten players to buy in to his system.
Throughout all four games against the Wild, the Blackhawks demonstrated the qualities that drive Quenneville’s success. They were disciplined and responsible on defense. They unfailingly followed a strategy that handcuffed the Wild, and they were well prepared for seemingly any situation.
“Everyone is on the same page, and he makes sure it stays that way,” Chicago forward Andrew Desjardins said. “That’s where our success comes from, sticking to the game plan and doing things correctly. He really pushes that.
“In his style, everybody is involved. Everybody’s important. That keeps you on your toes. And the confidence we have, that Blackhawks mentality, that comes from him and our leaders.”
When Quenneville arrived, Sharp said, the young Blackhawks were a gifted bunch that played as individuals. Quenneville molded them into a whole, giving them the structure they needed to excel as a team without quashing their unique styles and personalities. They also absorbed his unrelenting hunger to win.
“Whether it’s a practice, a preseason game or [Game 3], he’s involved in every play,” Sharp said. “He’s yelling and screaming on the bench. That energy kind of filters through the team, gets us going.”
Now the Blackhawks are going to the conference finals for the third consecutive year, with a chance to add to Quenneville’s legacy.
“It’s a competitive group of guys,” Quenneville said. “They want to find a way to win. They want to be champions. It’s a great achievement by this group.”