The Blackhawks’ top four defensemen’s minutes kept creeping up as the game wore on: 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes and, for one, nearly 50 minutes.
The main reason for the insane minutes, obviously, was the triple-overtime game; when the Blackhawks beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 on Tuesday night, they played their longest game in franchise history.
Still, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook were expected to play more with the altered, Michal Rozsival-absent defense. Kimmo Timonen is still struggling to play a lot and Kyle Cumiskey played in his first NHL postseason game in five years on Tuesday.
So is coach Joel Quenneville concerned that, as this Western Conference Finals series drags on, those minutes will lead to wear and tear for the top four?
“They just had 10 days off,” Quenneville said, referring to the lengthy break between the second round and conference finals. “So I feel pretty good about it.”
OK, but with the Blackhawks hosting the Ducks in Game 3 on Tuesday night, those defensemen will barely be coming off two days’ rest. Keith played just under 50 minutes (49:41) while Hjalmarsson and Seabrook played around 47 1/2 minutes. Oduya came in at 46 minutes.
Hjalmarsson said he was fine on Tuesday afternoon, when the Blackhawks arrived back in Chicago.
“I have no complaints,” he said. “Yeah, it was a lot of minutes last game. But we won the game, and we move on from there, start focusing on next game.”
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Quenneville said the quick turnaround shouldn’t be a problem.
“I mean, their defense played just about as many minutes as Dunks, Hammer, Seabs,” he said. “They're playing hockey; there's enough recovery time.”
The Ducks’ defensemen did log some massive minutes in that marathon game. Francois Beauchemin played 46 1/2 minutes, Hampus Lindholm played 44 minutes and Cam Fowler registered 40 minutes. The difference, of course, is how much the Blackhawks can play their fifth and sixth defensemen compared to the Ducks. Timonen played just under 17 minutes and Cumiskey finished with 18:34. The Ducks’ Sami Vatanen and Clayton Stoner played 37:57 and 28:54, respectively.
It sounds like Quenneville will stick with Cumiskey, who logged about nine of his 18 1/2 minutes in the second and third overtimes.
“He’s one of those kids [who], the more he plays, the more he sees what's out there. I think he'll take advantage of that,” Quenneville said. “His quickness was noticeable. He made a lot of direct plays. I thought he was quick in the puck area. He's defended well. He didn't play a ton, but certainly his minutes were meaningful. I think that was a good start for him.”
If Cumiskey is able to add more minutes as these games go on, that will certainly help. The Blackhawks aren’t strangers to spreading ice time among five defensemen in the playoffs; they did it the past two postseasons, as Rozsival played steady minutes and Nick Leddy played a lot fewer.
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The top four defensemen have a fast turnaround after playing a ton on Tuesday night. Quenneville wasn’t worried about the time, given the circumstances. Those defensemen don’t sound too concerned, either.
“I’m just trying to do whatever you can to help the team win. If that means [playing] a lot of minutes and trying not to mess up at the same time, I'll try that,” Hjalmarsson said to laughs. “Personal stats don't matter at all when it comes to playoff times. It's all about getting the win or not.”