ST. PAUL, Minn. — If the Blackhawks are going to win the Stanley Cup, they’re apparently going to do with basically five defensemen. Maybe even fewer.
Kimmo Timonen played one 40-second shift in the third period of Game 3. He played just 1:52 in the third period of Game 2, and just 2:06 in the third period of Game 1. He had played fewer than nine minutes in four of the previous five games entering Game 4. And with Michal Rozsival suffering what looked like a gruesome ankle injury in the second period, Joel Quenneville might have to turn to one of three other defensemen who haven’t exactly earned his trust yet — David Rundblad, Kyle Cumiskey or rookie Michael Paliotta.
Quenneville’s reluctance to play the 40-year-old Timonen much more than that has put a heavier burden on the other defensemen — one they’re more than willing to accept.
“It’s the playoffs, the best time of year, and we all want to be out there,” Brent Seabrook said before the game. “We want to be playing as much as we can, and helping the team out as much as we can, to get to the end goal we want. The coaching staff does a good job of giving us rest and days off and light skates throughout the playoffs. That’s huge. That helps us get ready for the games.”
Duncan Keith is second in the NHL, averaging 30:44 per game (inflated a bit by two multiple-overtime games in the first round), while Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are all averaging at least 24 minutes per game. Rozsival had been averaging 18:34, a healthy amount for the 36-year-old defenseman.
Quenneville said matchups and how close a game is play a role in that. But he’s not apologizing for the heavy use, either.
“You’re playing that game to win, and every game’s close,” he said. “[Keith] played meaningful minutes in the last couple of games, but he’s accustomed to doing that, and we’re comfortable giving him those minutes. We’ll see how taxing those minutes are, and [we] look at it the next day, how you think he’ll handle it. He usually doesn’t give you a reason why he can’t do it again.”
Andrew Desjardins was a healthy scratch the first two games of the playoffs, but he scored a goal 14:48 into his first appearance in Game 3 against Nashville and has established himself as a solid fourth-line forward. Desjardins, acquired at the trade deadline from the San Jose Sharks, is averaging13:20 of ice time in the playoffs.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Desjardins, who scored no goals and two points in 13 regular-season games since joining the Hawks. “You prepare your whole career for this situation, to be a part of something special and to be here. All the preparation comes down to this.”
As part of their stellar defensive effort in Game 3, the Hawks frustrated the Wild by blocking 19 shots in their 1-0 victory.
“They block shots really well,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “I know it looks so easy and it looks like we’ve got time, but if you see the lane that our D-men are looking at, trying to shoot through three of their guys and one of our guys, only to get it on net — they do such a good job of getting into that shooting lane.”
The Hawks scored the first goal in the first three games en route to victory. They had scored the first goal twice in six game against Nashville in the first round, going 1-1 in those games.
The Hawks were 35-9-2 when scoring first in the regular season. They are 4-1 in the playoffs.
“The first goal’s been key in this series,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Nashville, they scored some power-play goals early to get them going in games. Every game’s different. But certainly starts are something we always talk about.”