ANAHEIM, Calif. — Kyle Cumiskey will do the best he can. It’s all the Blackhawks can expect him to do at this point.
“If I get a chance, I’m going to try and keep it simple, get the puck out of my own zone — speed, quick first pass,” Cumiskey said Monday after the Hawks practiced at the Honda Center. “It’ll take a bit of an adjustment. It’s a fast game out there. Hopefully I can adjust as quickly as possible.”
Hope is about all the Hawks have left as they try to mitigate the impact of Michael Rozsival’s season-ending injury that has left their already thin defensive corps even thinner. Cumiskey isn’t going to suddenly become Duncan Keith or even Johnny Oduya. If he can just be himself on the big stage of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Hawks will take their chances.
That’s something David Rundblad — put in a tough spot playing not only in his first career playoff game, but in his first real hockey game in 36 days — couldn’t do in the Hawks’ 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of the Western Conference final. Rundblad’s failure to control the puck led to goals that put the Hawks in a 2-0 bind.
And that’s why it appears coach Joel Quenneville will turn to Cumiskey to provide the stability the Hawks need from their fringe defensemen that will take some of the heat off their four stalwarts — Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Oduya. Kimmo Timonen, the 40-year-old veteran who had not played this season before joining the Hawks in March, played just 5:15 in Game 1.
Officially, Quenneville said Cumiskey “could play” in Game 2, but upon further questioning addressed the Cumiskey issue as if the 28-year-old defenseman would be in there.
“He’ll be excited about getting in the lineup,” Quenneville said. “He brings some speed, quickness. He defends with his quickness in the puck area. Offensively he’s got some pace to his game. It will be a good opportunity for him to help us and bring some quickness to our team.”
The 5-11, 180-pound Cumiskey, who played seven games with the Hawks in the regular season, has playoff experience — a goal and two points and a minus-7 in six games with the Colorado Avalanche against San Jose in 2010. But he knows he’s in a tough situation, especially after seeing Rundblad struggle in Game 1. Cumiskey has not played in an NHL game since Feb. 27 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I think it was tough losing [Rozsival],” Cumiskey said, “and me and David, we haven’t played in a month, so it’s a tough situation to be thrown into. It would be tough for me, too. I’ve just got to try and make the most of it.
“If [I] get thrown in there, I’ll feel a bit of the pressure for sure. It’s a huge game. You don’t want to make any mistakes out there. But at the same time, you’ve got to keep that at the back of your mind and just try to be relaxed and play your game. I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous, but excited at the same time.”
Quenneville is counting on Cumiskey playing his game, which Rundblad was unable to do in a tough spot. Cumiskey was drafted by the Avalanche in the seventh round in 2005 when Quenneville was the head coach and played 47 games for Quenneville in Colorado in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
“He’s one of those players that has a different dimension from the back end, jumping into the play, quickness, in and out of puck areas,” Quenneville said of Cumiskey. “He’s got a different level of speed for a defenseman. He didn’t get a chance to play much [seven games in the regular season] but we knew that he can play. He can be an asset.”
It’s a tough break for Rundblad if the scenario works out as expected. Playing for the first time since April 11, he was a minus- 1 (he also was on the ice for Brad Richards’ second-period goal that cut the Ducks’ lead to 2-1) in 10:47 of ice time.
“Yeah, it’s not the easiest spot to be in. But it is what it is,” said the 24-year-old Swede, who scored three goals, 14 points and was a plus-17 in 49 regular-season games with the Hawks this season. “Obviously, I didn’t play as good as I can and as I had to play [in Game 1]. It was a tough game for me.”
It’s possible that Rundblad might respond with a better performance after getting the first-game jitters out of the way and the losing some of the rust from a long layoff. But he might not get that chance.
“I don’t know. That’s tough to say,” Rundblad said. “I just tried to go out there and play my game and [Sunday] I wasn’t quick enough or hard enough. I think those are the two things I have to do better if I’m going to play.”
As for Timonen, the 40-year-old veteran seems resigned to making the most of almost token minutes as he chases his first Stanley Cup. It’s not easy to do.
“Especially when you’re 40 years old,” Timonen said. “It is tough, but once you go out there you try to do your job as good as possible and not make mistakes. I don’t want to play five minutes and then make a ton of mistakes. Whatever the role is, I’m going to do it. It’s not the best one, and I’ve never done it before. But I guess I had to play 40 years to see that.”
Quenneville was sympathetic, and said Timonen played “all right” in Game 1. But it sounded like it was tough to pull the trigger on giving Timonen regular defenseman minutes in a playoff game.
“That’s a valid point,” he said of Timonen’s time-on-ice quandary. “The more you play, the more effective you are in the game. You seem to have more confidence in a lot of areas.
“I thought he started the game well [Sunday] … got a little deeper in the game. Didn’t play much. But I didn’t mind his game. We’ll see how we’ll go going forward.”