Seven days later, the Blackhawks still are ready for the next round.
It’s been one week since the Hawks completed a sweep of the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Arena. Three days later they found out they’d be playing the Anaheim Ducks and starting the Western Conference final on the road. On Wednesday night game dates and times were finalized — Game 1 will be Sunday at 2 p.m. (Chicago time) at Honda Center.
All that’s left is to play the game.
“This is the longest wait I’ve ever had … between rounds,” forward Marian Hossa said. “Personally, I like fewer days off — a couple of days. But a long period of time — we’ll see. I’m sure nobody likes to wait this long.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville recalled having an 18-day layoff between playoff series in his final year of professional hockey with St. John’s of the AHL in 1992. (A quirk in the playoff format gave the Maple Leafs a bye into the Calder Cup Final as the team with the highest point total of the remaining teams.). How did that work out?
“Not good,” Quenneville said. “We lost all our home games.”
St. John’s lost 6-3 and 7-4 in the first two games on the road and eventually lost in seven games. Obviously, he is trying to avoid that fate in the conference final. With the first two games at Honda Center, the Hawks are hoping to steal at least one of them.
Though the Hawks’ lineup has been set after the strong performance against the Wild, Quenneville did tweak his defensive pairings in Thursday’s practice — with Duncan Keith skating with Niklas Hjalmarsson; Johnny Oduya with Brent Seabrook; and David Rundblad with Kimmo Timonen. It’s the last pairing that opened some eyes — Timonen is averaging 9:25 of ice time in the playoffs, easily the lowest on the team. Rundblad, a replacement for the injured Michal Rozsival, never has played in a Stanley Cup play off game.
“Just [to] give us a look, different options as we go into games,” Quenneville said.
Would he actually use those pairs in a game?
“Well, the pairs that probably didn’t see much of one another was David and Kimmo,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see if we can utilize as we go along in the games. But it’s emoting we wanted to see.”
The Hawks’ short-handed defensive corps against the Ducks front-line firepower with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler will be a key to the series. Rundblad will replace Rozsival, who suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Game 4 against the Wild. But ultimately, it likely will come down to the Hawks’ “Big 4” of Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya picking up the slack.
“Play dictate that — kind of what we went through the last series,” Quenneville said. “You’re playing to win that game. We’ll see. Play, opponent, score — variables are tough to forecast.”