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Nick Leddy must keep it going after a high 5

Nick Leddy Ray Whitney

Nick Leddy, Ray Whitney

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Updated: May 24, 2012 8:30AM

It’s not that defenseman Nick Leddy had played poorly through the first four games of the Blackhawks’ first-round series against the Coyotes, but the lowlights stood out.

Leddy was on the ice for Martin Hanzal’s game-winning goal in overtime of Game 1 and was outmuscled by Boyd Gordon to a puck along the end boards that led to a score by Rostislav Klesla in the third period of Game 3.

But, most noticeably, Leddy was caught fanning at a bouncing puck in the neutral zone that Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker pushed past him for a breakaway before scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 4.

“He’s been on the ice for some goals that you might look at,” coach Joel Quenneville said Friday before departing for Glendale, Ariz., ahead of Game 5. “As we go along here, we’re going to need him to be effective with not just the offensive side of things, but defending and being responsible, as well.”

Quenneville wanted Leddy and his blue-line partner, Johnny Oduya, to be better, and he got his wish Saturday in Game 5.

Leddy and Oduya combined for a plus-4 performance in the Hawks’ strongest defensive effort of the series.

Leddy also put together his most effective game with five shots and the game-tying goal in the third period. He was a more active, physical presence throughout.

“I don’t think I was being as assertive as I could’ve been,” Leddy said after Game 5 about his play earlier in the series. “I just have to keep my feet moving because that’s a big asset for me and keep being assertive.”

The Hawks lean heavily on Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Both are averaging at least 31 minutes. But they won’t be able to get by with just their top defensive pair.

Quenneville needs Leddy and Oduya to match their play in Game 5 if the Hawks are going to drag themselves out of this hole.

Specifically, they need Leddy, who’s widely hailed by his teammates as the Hawks’ best skater, to help break down the Coyotes’ patient approach.

“When [Leddy is] coming up the ice with speed and the puck’s on his stick, I think he can add to our team game and get through not just the defensive zone, but the neutral zone and even get some offense off it in their end,” Quenneville said.

The Hawks are counting on it, and Game 5 was a step in the right direction.

“It’s kind of been a thing for me all year in a way,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘[I need to] just keep moving my feet and keep being assertive. The coaches talk about that kind of stuff, and they brought it to my attention. That kind of stuff, you have to take it in and put it to use.”

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