In bit role, Kimmo Timonen makes victorious return to NHL’s big stage

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Just when it looked like Kimmo Timonen would never get another shot, he got one — fate perhaps moving its huge hands to reward a 40-year-old veteran for handling a seemingly career-ending demotion in exemplary fashion.

“I hope to think that way — that it is about fate or Karma or whatever,” Timonen said after the Blackhawks’ morning skate Wednesday. “You never know what happens. It’s hockey. It’s wins and losses. You’ve got to be ready.

“It’s been tough, I can’t lie to you, but I decided I’m going to stay positive and work hard and hopefully I get a chance. And here we are.”

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville suddenly gave Timonen a chance to write a storybook ending to a heretofore dubious final chapter to Timonen’s 16-year NHL career. After being a healthy scratch — “benched” in American —for the previous five games, Timonen replaced Kyle Cumiskey for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at the United Center.

Timonen did the best he could with limited ice time (5:46, including just one 25-second shift in the second period). He was nearly a hero in the third period when his shot from the point hit the crossbar. He was called for a hooking penalty in the first period — the Hawks killed it. And he drew a high-sticking penalty on Alex Killorn when they tangled later in the first period — the Hawks failed to score on the power play.

“Tampa is the fastest team we’ve faced,” Timonen said. “I had a [few] problems in the beginning, but I think I got better [as] the game progressed. I hope I get to play in the next game, too. It’s much more fun even if I have to sit on [the] bench for long periods of time.”

Timonen likely will play again in Game 5 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.

“I liked him,” Quenneville said. “He’s safe, simple, smart, hard in the puck area. He knows how to play in his own end. I like that predictability in his game. The crossbar in the end of the third — would have been a nice treat. We didn’t mind his game.”

Timonen, a Kuopio, Finland native who was drafted by the Kings a year before Teuvo Teravainen was born, went into the difficult situation the same way he left it — with a good spirit and hoping to make the most of it. He had not played since Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Ducks on May 25, when he was a minus-2 in a 5-4 overtime loss.

“Once you miss the last seven games [five, actually] and two weeks of hockey, it is not the perfect situation to jump in there,” Timonen said, “but I’ve been around a long time and I know what to expect. I’m going to enjoy the moment. It is the best you can take. Keep it simple, but I want to be aggressive and hopefully I can help the team with making plays and play my own game.”

Though his spirit was willing, the odds were against him. The last time Timonen was on the ice for a Stanley Cup Final game, the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane beat the 35-year-old Timonen for the overtime goal that clinched the Hawks’ 2010 Cup championship in Philadelphia.

Today, Timonen is five years further past his prime. Relying more on his experience and guile to survive, he has struggled with the rust of the nearly year-long layoff because of blood clots, minimal ice time and the reality that he’s 40 years old and his legs that just aren’t there any more.

His acquisition was reaching the “What were they thinking?” stage when he was benched after a performance in Game 5 against the Ducks that evoked sympathy more than any other emotion. The Hawks acquired Timonen from the Flyers — in a deal announced during the Hawks’ 4-0 loss to the Lightning in Tampa on Feb. 27 — for a second-round pick in the 2015 draft and a conditional fourth-round pick (that now is a second-round pick) in the 2016 draft.

Timonen had not played in the 2014-15 regular season while recovering from the blood clots. His rust showed in the 16 regular-season games he played with the Hawks — he did not score a point and was a minus-3. He was no more effective in the playoffs — no points and an even plus-minus in 15 games.

And his play deteriorated as the Ducks pounded him into submission in the first five games. The puck-moving defenseman was an easy target.

It was making Timonen’s quest to have his name on the Stanley Cup as a cherry on top of a stellar career look a bit pathetic — an awkward finish for one of the all-time nice guys in the NHL and one of the best players ever from Finland — a four-time NHL All-Star and five-time Olympian. Did he really need it that badly?

But then, a chance for redemption. With the Hawks down 2-1 in the Final, Timonen had a chance to make a difference. To earn his name on that Cup.

“[The] only thing I can say is I’m going to enjoy the moment,” Timonen said. “There’s not many moments that I’m going to get like this. This is my moment.”

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