Blackhawks leaning heavily on top four defensemen

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Niklas Hjalmarsson (left) and Duncan Keith each had a goal in Game 1. (AP Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After playing 39 minutes and 51 seconds of up-and-down hockey on Wednesday night, Duncan Keith stood at his locker for 10 minutes while talking to reporters, rather than sit. Maybe the guy can just play all night, after all. Maybe he’ll have to.

Joel Quenneville leaned heavily on his top four defensemen in the Blackhawks’ double-overtime victory in Game 1 against Nashville. Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya each played more than 31 minutes, while Michal Rozsival played 19:24, and Kimmo Timonen just 11:39. Depth is important in the playoffs, but having your best players on the ice in the biggest moments is even more important.

Shea Weber and Roman Josi played 38 and 39 minutes each, respectively, for the Predators.

“Both teams’ defensemen have played big minutes in big situations, and on big stages as well,” Quenneville said. “And getting proper rest, knowing their body, is something they’ve done a tremendous job [of], getting focused for the next game. It’s something they’re accustomed to.”

It was Timonen’s first game back after missing the final three games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. The 40-year-old veteran is still finding his legs after missing 10 months with blood clots. Rozsival, on the other hand, has had a rough second half of the season, and was burned badly by Colin Wilson on Nashville’s first goal of the game. Rozsival had some nice defensive plays after that, even staving off a breakaway with some aggressive backchecking, but has been a liability at times.

Quenneville thought Rozsival and Timonen “were fine.” He said no lineup changes were expected.

The Hawks’ tried and tested top four welcome the extra workload, but know they can’t go far using only two pairings.

“You want to use as many guys as you can,” Oduya said. “In the playoffs, it comes down to how deep your team is, and how everybody competes. Everybody plays, and you’re going to need everybody. Sometimes you might need to play some guys a little bit more — a lot of power play and penalty kills [Wednesday] made that the way it was. Other than that, I think we try to use as many guys as possible.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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