The top four defensemen of the Chicago Blackhawks are seeing an exorbinant amount of ice time this postseason. But with what’s at stake, and the fact a maximum of three games remain, a reduced workload is not an option.
Since Michal Rozsival went down with a fractured ankle in the final game of the Western Conference semifinals against the Minnesota Wild, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has gone primarily with his top four blue-liners in his quest to bring a third Stanley Cup title in six years to the Windy City.
The quartet of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson received the lion’s share of playing time versus the Anaheim Ducks in the conference final, a series that saw the Blackhawks rally from a 3-2 deficit to book a trip to the championship round of the playoffs. Nothing has changed in the Final, with only an injury to Oduya in Game 3 threatening to disrupt Quenneville’s plan.
“They want to be on the ice,” Quenneville said. “I feel the more defensemen play, your game’s more productive or effective. These guys are accustomed to playing a lot of minutes.”
Oduya was able to participate in Game 4, and he was second on the team to Keith in ice time, playing 25 minutes, 45 seconds. It was the highest total in seven games for the 33-year-old, who saw a whopping 46:06 of action on 58 shifts in a triple-overtime win over Anaheim in Game 2 of the conference final – the longest game in team history.
Oduya ranks fourth on the Blackhawks, and 18th in the NHL, with an average of 24:47 of ice time. Hjalmarsson is third on the club at 25:56, maxing out at 47:35 in the triple-OT contest against the Ducks.
Hjalmarsson played nearly 25 minutes in the Game 4 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday that evened the Stanley Cup Final at two wins apiece. The 28-year-old Swede has seen less than 20 minutes of action just once this postseason but has adjusted well to the added time.
“It’s not as bad as you would think,” he said on Friday. “Personally, I could have played yesterday. I could have skipped these two days in between games.”Seabrook is averaging 26:22 per game, putting him second on the team and 13th in the league. The 30-year-old also has provided plenty of offense, ranking fourth on the Blackhawks with seven goals this postseason after registering eight in 82 regular-season games.
Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner, is second to fellow defenseman Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators at an incredible 31:14. The 31-year-old is Quenneville’s go-to guy, as he’s eclipsed the 40-minute mark three times this postseason and fell nine seconds short on another occasion.
Considering his heavy workload, Keith has patrolled the blue line with several different partners – something that doesn’t affect him in the least.
“Obviously, we have certain guys who we end up playing more shifts than we do with other guys,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I think we’ve got all capable defensemen that are all out there, and we’re all being utilized.”
Several other defensemen are not being utilized much at all when they’re in the lineup. Kimmo Timonen, Kyle Cumiskey, David Rundblad and Trevor van Riemsdyk have been interchangeable parts for Chicago and have played sparingly when actually in the lineup.
Quenneville will continue to go with his formula and hope his defensemen can get to the finish line. With the chance to get their names engraved on the Cup again, the blue-liners have no doubt they can achieve their goal.
“At the most, three games left here to do something great,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s pretty easy to get motivated, just go out there and live in the moment, just think about the next shift, try not to look too far ahead, just take it a period at a time, give everything you have in that period, then see what happens.”