Big Four Log Big Minutes Again for Blackhawks

It took almost three full overtime periods and ended at 1:00 A.M. CST, but the Chicago Blackhawks were able to leave with a win.  Almost two full games worth of minutes, but the Blackhawks were able to sneak out of southern California with a 3-2 victory and tied the series at one game a piece.  Every player on the ice gave it a full effort, but perhaps none more than the big four defensemen for the ‘Hawks.  Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya have been logging a tremendous amount of minutes throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The question is, can they sustain this high level of play?

Johnny Oduya
(Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

Big Minutes

On Tuesday night, the top four defensemen for the Blackhawks were on the ice for approximately 85% of the time.  In a triple overtime game, these minutes can take a huge toll on a player.  Duncan Keith’s time on the ice was nine seconds shy of 50 minutes.  Yes, almost 50 minutes of hockey in one night for a single player, and the rest of the four played a similar amount.  Hjalmarsson logged 47 minutes, Oduya at 46 minutes, and Seabrook was almost at 48 minutes.  Big time minutes for these players, and they responded.  All four of the blue-liners find themselves in the top 15 for average time-on-ice in the playoffs, including NHL-leading Duncan Keith at just over 32 minutes a game.

Anaheim’s Physicality

One thing is for certain, the Ducks are a physical team, and have clearly aimed to wear the Blackhawks down.  The extended amount of minutes could spell trouble for any defensive group in a deep series, especially against the physical Ducks.  In Game 1, the Ducks out-hit the Blackhawks 44-34.  However, in Game 2, the Ducks were obviously out to make a point.  They were credited for 71 hits, while Chicago was only credited for 45.  Leading the charge for the Ducks is Clayton Stoner, who leads the team with 15 hits so far in the series.  Other than Stoner, there were three Ducks credited for 7 hits (Kesler, Getzlaf, Beleskey).  Eventually, these hits will start to take their toll in later games.

Extra Defensemen

The importance of these players getting much needed rest lies in the hands of Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey.  Timonen has been used extremely sparingly throughout the first two games, receiving only 5 minutes of ice-time in Game 1 and 16 minutes in Game 2.  Timonen is on the smaller-side and has been roughed around by the Ducks when he’s been on the ice.  On Tuesday night, Cumiskey was given his first start of the playoffs.  In somewhat limited minutes, I thought that he played fairly well.  He also drew some high-praise from his coach.  “He made a lot of direct plays. He was quick in the puck areas. He defended well. He didn’t play a ton, but certainly his minutes were meaningful. I thought it was a good start for him.”  These are definitely encouraging words from the bench boss.

Can The Pattern Continue?

Perhaps the biggest question in the series is whether or not this group of defensemen will be able to continue playing these big minutes.  So far, they have held their own, but after a triple overtime game, there is room for concern.  However, the Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked about the large amount of playing time these guys have been receiving, and he didn’t seem too concerned.

As the series goes on, we will find out whether or not the top four defensemen are up for the challenge.  Look for the Ducks to continue their physical style of play when the series turns to the United Center.  If these guys can hold up, the Blackhawks may find themselves with a series advantage.