You never know. Maybe David Rundblad can indeed step right into the Blackhawks lineup, alongside Duncan Keith, against the bruising and powerful Anaheim Ducks, in his playoff debut (in the Western Conference final, no less), and play 18 minutes a night, like Michal Rozsival did before he broke his ankle Thursday night. Maybe this will be Rundblad’s coming-out party, and a vindicating moment for general manager Stan Bowman, who was so high on the young defenseman for years.
Joel Quenneville is allowing for that possibility. He’s also not going to count on it.
There are only a maximum of 14 games left in the season. And if Quenneville has to keep riding his top four defensemen the way he did in Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild, so be it.
“You’re playing to win that game,” Quenneville said. “[Defensemen] at certain times might get extended to play. Whether it’s [Keith] playing 30 minutes in a 60-minute game — he’s had a lot of stretches where he had those kind of minutes. The other guys are accustomed to playing in the low 20s, and sometimes it gets up there a little bit more. They’ve all had games where they’ve played those kind of minutes. I think they’re smart enough positionally, and aware of how they defend, that they’ll keep themselves in plays. At the same time, we still want to be active in the attack. I think they can manage it.”
But while the Hawks’ opponent in the conference final (the Ducks enter Sunday night’s game with a chance to close out the Calgary Flames in Game 5) can expect to see a heavy dose of Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, Kimmo Timonen and Rundblad will have to do their share, too, even if it’s only eight or 10 minutes a night.
Rundblad is excited for the opportunity, even it came at a cost.
“I just felt really sorry for Rozy,” he said. “He’s been playing really good so far, too. That injury, too, it’s just painful to watch. I just feel bad for him. But at the same time, I’ve got to be excited right now. This is what you want to do, you want to play games. It’s no fun just to bag skate.”
Defense was the last position the Hawks could have afforded an injury. Had a forward been hurt, Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom are proven commodities waiting for their turn. Had Corey Crawford been hurt, it would have been bad, but Scott Darling and Antti Raanta are solid backups. With a defenseman hurt, the Hawks have no choice but to turn to an untested player. And with Timonen hardly playing at all, they can’t shield him too much.
Rundblad played 49 games this season, often paired with Keith. A gifted offensive player with a big shot, he had three goals, 11 assists and was a sparkling plus-17, though he was sheltered with largely offensive-zone starts. He struggled with turnover problems, particularly in his own end — a concern that will only be magnified in the playoffs, especially against a heavy forechecking teams like the Ducks. He’ll be on the right side, his preferred side, but he’ll have to earn Quenneville’s trust, no small feat on such a big stage.
“You’ve just got to keep it simple,” Rundblad said. “Especially now, when I haven’t been playing. It’s way more faster, way more intense in the playoffs than the regular season. I’ve just got to go out there and just be quick, and do everything quick. Just keep it as simple as I can.”
Keith said he and Rundblad developed some chemistry during the season, and that communication will be key. He’s not worried about the mellow Rundblad getting over-excied, however.
“He’s pretty calm,” Keith said. “Sometimes he might have to calm me down. I think Rundy’s mature enough in his own mind that he’s able to do that.”
It’s just a matter of whether he gets the chance.
“He’s going to come in and play,” Quenneville said. “Other guys are accustomed to playing significant minutes. Every game’s going to be different, but his play and the game and the score will play a lot into it.”