Of course: ‘Hawks, Ducks’ back-and-forth series is going to Game 7


It just seems appropriate.

In a Western Conference Final where the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have each had their moments to shine, where neither squad has been able to keep the other down for long, it would have been almost anticlimactic if we were given anything less than the full seven games. Chicago guaranteed that we’ll get that deciding contest by earning a 5-2 victory tonight.

After losing Game 5 in no small part due to their terrible start, the Blackhawks came out strong tonight. They were initially dominant on the draw and had some great scoring chances, but Anaheim held on to maintain the scoreless tie through 20 minutes.

It wasn’t until midway through the second period that Chicago’s efforts were finally rewarded with Brandon Saad’s breakaway goal. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane followed that up with a pair of goals, giving Chicago three markers in the span of less than four minutes. Duncan Keith assisted on all of those goals to tie his career-high, per the NHL’s Communications Department.

As both sides should be well aware at this point though, a 3-0 lead isn’t safe. While the final score was ultimately one-sided, Anaheim nearly came back as Patrick Maroon netted a power-play goal at 14:13 of the second period and Clayton Stoner added a controversial marker early in the third period.

The final frame was largely dominated by the Ducks, but the Blackhawks managed to hold on until Andrew Shaw provided them with some much needed insurance.

Shaw also collected an empty netter to bury this game.

That marks the first time Anaheim has lost in regulation since the playoffs began. Chicago needed to go to triple and double overtime to beat them in Games 2 and 4 respectively.

Game 7 will be played in Anaheim on Saturday. For Chicago to win this series, it will have to become the first team to earn back-to-back victories in the 2015 Western Conference Final.

‘Hawks put Rundblad in, Timonen out, defensive pairings different than expected

1 Comment

As anticipated, defenseman David Rundblad drew in for Chicago tonight in Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks. That comes at the expense of 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen, who played in Chicago’s first 15 playoff games but was averaging just 9:25 minutes per contest.

Timonen had a 47.79% Corsi For in even strength situations, which was the third worst on the team among those that had participated in at least five playoff games.

Based on the pregame warmups though, the pairings are a bit different than expected. During the regular season, Rundblad would most often play with Duncan Keith and this afternoon it looked like he would skate alongside Kyle Cumiskey. Instead, Rundblad is projected to be paired with Johnny Oduya. Meanwhile Cumiskey will play with Brent Seabrook and Keith will join Niklas Hjalmarsson to form the top defensive unit.

Chicago has been leaning heavily on its top four defensemen throughout the playoffs and questions about its blueline depth only intensified after Michal Rozsival suffered an ankle injury. With these changes, we’ll have to see if the allocation of ice time is a little more balanced.

Hossa’s age just one of the challenges facing Blackhawks


Did you know that Marian Hossa is the second-oldest forward still playing in these playoffs?

It’s true — only Martin St. Louis, 39, is older.

In the playoffs, Hossa, 36, has been the fifth-oldest forward overall. During the regular season, only 17 forwards in the entire league were older than he was.

Why are we bringing this up? Because Hossa only played 14:44 last night in Anaheim, his lowest ice time in these playoffs.

So, is he hurt? Or, is he just tired?  

Yesterday, an article in the Chicago Sun-Times questioned whether all the “marathons” the Blackhawks have played this postseason were taking a toll:

Hossa as much as any Hawk gives it all he’s got. You can see the determination in his game. But the reality is that after 17 seasons in the NHL, he is challenged more than most to maintain his level of impact as the minutes pile up. 

To be sure, Hossa remains a very effective player. He has 11 points in 15 playoff games, and his possession stats are among the best on the Blackhawks. But his age is a factor, whether fans like it or not. It’s the same thing in Boston with Zdeno Chara and Detroit with Pavel Datsyuk.

Hossa may not get the accolades those two do, possibly because so much attention is given to teammates Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. But he’s been vitally important in the Blackhawks’ two championship runs in the last five years. There aren’t many, if any, wingers who play such a strong two-way game.

Hossa isn’t going anywhere. He still has six seasons left on his front-loaded, 12-year contract — the kind of contract they don’t allow anymore. There could be a cap-recapture issue down the line.

But for the Blackhawks to remain contenders over the next few years, it’ll be up to youngsters like Teuvo Teravainen and Artemi Panarin to step up and offset the decline in Hossa’s play — a decline that happens to even the greatest players as they get older.

Did Cumiskey earn some trust from Coach Q?


Yes, there were definitely moments where Kyle Cumiskey was “an adventure” in Game 2. Still, there’s some impression that the 28-year-old earned some of Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville’s trust in last night’s marathon win against the Anaheim Ducks.

“I liked his game,” Quenneville said. “I think he’ll get a little better off yesterday’s game, too. He’s one of those kids, the more he plays, the more he sees what’s out there, I think he’ll take advantage of that. His quickness was noticeable. Made a lot of direct plays. I thought he was quick in the puck area. He’s defended well. ”

“Didn’t play a ton, but certainly his minutes were meaningful. I think that was a good start for him.”

You can chalk up much of this to fatigue for other Blackhawks blueliners, yet it’s interesting that almost one-third of Cumiskey’s 18:34 TOI came during the third overtime period. One would get at least some impression that Coach Q was getting a little more comfortable with Cumiskey being on the ice in “meaningful” situations.

Sure, there’s an element of “beggars can’t be choosers” here, but it should be interesting to see if Quenneville uses Cumiskey a little more liberally in Games 3 and 4. With the last change, he can do his best to avoid nightmare situations in which Cumiskey is on the ice against Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.

Instead, the Blackhawks can take advantage of modest-yet-crucial strengths Cumiskey possesses, at least in comparison to over-matched veteran Kimmo Timonen. Relatively speaking, Cumiskey can move around and move the puck with more comfort than the once-great Finn.

A variety of “fancy stats” argue that Cumiskey had a respectable-enough game, although the last-change thought hangs over it all, as he started a ridiculous amount of shifts in the offensive zone. (Natural Stat Trick pegs it as 87 percent, the highest of any Chicago player in Game 2.) It’s also worth noting that Cumiskey might have been working off a little bit of rust:

Again, it’s a matter of lesser evils at this point for Quenneville & Co. If it’s clear that Duncan Keith and others are more drained than anyone’s letting on, then Chicago may need to lean on Cumiskey a bit more.

That’s still not a pretty proposition, yet it certainly seems more feasible today than it did before Game 2 on Tuesday.

Related: Quenneville isn’t concerned about the minutes his top four defensemen absorbed.

Despite huge minutes for some, Blackhawks will be ‘ready to get right back at it’


For the second time in these playoffs, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith logged over 45 minutes of ice time.

The actual number in Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, a 3-2 Chicago victory in triple overtime, was 49:51. That’s only a few minutes more than the 46:19 he received in Game 4 of the first round versus Nashville, another triple OT win.

In 12 playoff games, Keith has averaged a remarkable 32:02. And the “freak” hasn’t been the only workhorse on the back end. Brent Seabrook (26:15), Niklas Hjalmarsson (26:11), and Johnny Oduya (26:07) have also been eating up the minutes.

Meanwhile, Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey each played sparingly (relatively speaking) last night, logging 16:45 and 18:34, respectively.

The former, at 40 years old and after missing most of the regular season, has struggled to keep up since joining the Blackhawks in a late-season trade. Lacking the mobility that was once a trademark of his game, he’s been hit, and hit hard, multiple times by the Ducks.

The latter was making his 2015 playoff debut (replacing David Rundblad, who’d previously come in for Michal Rozsival) and, other than one near disastrous giveaway, actually held his own.

“Everybody had significant minutes, no matter who you were in that game,” coach Joel Quenneville said afterwards.

“I’m sure everybody will be tired and relaxed over tomorrow’s day, and then I’m sure everybody will be looking forward to Thursday. 

“Right now, it’s one of those games, the minutes look skewed when you look at it, but the game is what it is. Guys recover between periods, although they even have shorter intermissions, too. 

“It’s a good test, but I think our team’s gone through that more than once and are ready to get right back at it.”

Time will tell if all those minutes eventually catch up to the Blackhawks. This series is guaranteed to go at least three more games, and the Ducks, in stark contrast, have confidence in all six of their defensemen.