Blackhawks' defensive depth tested already in Game 1 vs. Ducks


Blackhawks' defensive depth tested already in Game 1 vs. Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The concerns of the Michal Rozsival-less Blackhawks defense were present entering the Western Conference Final.

Someone had to make up the time-on-ice difference for Rozsival, who was playing 15-18 minutes before he suffered a postseason-ending fractured ankle against Minnesota. David Rundblad was going to get thrown into a tough situation, having no postseason experience. Kimmo Timonen wasn’t playing much at all and who knew if coach Joel Quenneville would change that, even in Rozsival’s absence.

Well, Game 1 is in the books. And regarding the Blackhawks’ defense going forward, there may be even more questions now.

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Rundblad had a tough day, as two of his clearing attempts/passes resulted in Anaheim goals. Timonen logged just 5:15 of ice time. Duncan Keith played more than 28 minutes, and 10 1/2 of those came in the first period. The depleted depth past Rozsival was known entering this series, and Game 1 emphasized that.

So let’s break this down a bit, shall we? While some folks on Twitter are screaming for Kyle Cumiskey or a defenseman from Rockford to get playing time, will it make a difference? Either way you’re going to have an inexperienced defenseman coming in at a pressure-filled time of the postseason — Cumiskey, by the way, has played just six NHL postseason games. Maybe it’s worth the chance but the risk, nevertheless, would be there.

Last week, Timonen said he’s felt as good as he ever has entering this series. Why he only logged a little more than five minutes is uncertain. Perhaps coach Quenneville is wary of playing him more. Maybe it was because the Blackhawks got down 1-0 about nine minutes into the game and were chasing from then on out. When that happens, the Blackhawks rotate their top players more often. But if Timonen is healthy he needs to play more. If nothing else, he soaks up some of those minutes.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Quenneville, when asked if the Blackhawks have enough depth with Rundblad and Timonen, said, “I think we’re fine.”

“Every game's different,” he said. “I think when you're not playing much, you want to play it safe, keep it simple as best you can. We'll work our way through it.”

If the Blackhawks do work their way through it, it will still probably be with their top four playing a bulk of the minutes. The Blackhawks had plenty of rest entering this series, so those four should be fine in that respect. But it’s not just the minutes. They’ll take more of a beating in this series than they have the previous ones. As Ryan Kesler said following Sunday’s game, “When you get guys playing a ton of minutes, it’s going to wear them down. We’ve got to invest in them physically.”

The Blackhawks will make adjustments heading into Game 2. They always do after a loss. The defensive depth, or lack thereof in Rozsival’s absence, was going to be a concern entering this series. It still is.

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread:

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane with the No. 1 pick the following year, it was a sign that the dark skies were clearing in Chicago. Things really started to change when Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman following the death of his father Bill in September of 2007, and one of the first decisions he made was to televise all 82 games.

The fans were coming back.

For only the second time in 11 years, the Blackhawks finished above .500 in 2007-08 but missed the playoffs by three points, a season in which Kane won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

The following year Joel Quenneville took over as head coach after only three games to provide some coaching experience behind the bench for a young team on the rise. It resulted in a 104-point season and ended in a Conference Finals berth at the hands of the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings in five games.

The Blackhawks were ready to make that step into championship contenders. They just needed someone to put them over the edge.

Enter Marian Hossa.

On July 1 of 2009, he committed to the Blackhawks for 12 years worth $62.8 million. He bought into the long-term vision and wanted to be a part of something special for many years to come.

Was he ever.

In his first game as a member of the Blackhawks, Hossa scored two goals in a 7-2 road victory against San Jose after missing the first month and a half of the season with a shoulder injury. It was at that moment where you saw what kind of powerhouse the Blackhawks could be and would become with a full lineup and future Hall of Fame winger added to a mixture of franchise-changing players scratching the surface.

Fast forward to Game 5 of the 2010 quarterfinals. You know how it goes. Series is tied 2-2. The Blackhawks trail 4-3 late in the third period. Extra attacker is on. How many times have we seen this? The Blackhawks were surely going to find a way to tie it up ... and then Hossa is sent to the box with 1:03 to play in regulation. A five-minute major boarding penalty.


Not so fast. 

Patrick Kane went on to score arguably the biggest goal in Blackhawks history, a shorthanded one that evened it up with 13.6 seconds to go. United Center is up for grabs. But there are still four minutes left to kill off on the penalty once overtime starts, which Hossa once called "the longest four minutes of my life." 

In a span of nine seconds following the penalty kill, Hossa jumped on the ice from the box, darted straight for the net and buried home what was the second-biggest goal in franchise history to put the Blackhawks up 3-2 in the series. Two nights later Hossa assisted on three goals and the Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators in their barn.

The rest is history.

Who knows if the Blackhawks rally to win that series if they don't tie it up or win it in overtime. Who knows if they break through the next year. Who knows if that core group even remains together. The course of the franchise could've changed that night.

Instead, Hossa was handed the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career on June 9, 2010 from Jonathan Toews, who couldn't give it to him fast enough after he came up on the losing end in consecutive appearances with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009.

Hossa would add two more titles to his résumé with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, which almost certainly locked up his legacy as one of the all-time greats and his eventual next stop: The Hockey Hall of Fame. The wait was worth it.

"I was hoping to get one coming to Chicago and now I’ve got three," Hossa said following the 2015 Stanley Cup win. "What a feeling." 

The Blackhawks don't win three Stanley Cups without Hossa, who will go down as arguably the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history.

On behalf of the city of Chicago: Thank you, 81.