You have used all of your free pageviews.

Please subscribe to access more content.

Learn More
Already a subscriber? Sign in here.

Subscribe for unlimited access.

To continue viewing the content you love, please sign in or create a new account

Learn More
Already a subscriber? Sign in here.

Subscribe for unlimited access.

Learn More
Already a subscriber? Sign in here.

Deep blue line could be a major asset for Blackhawks in playoffs

Trevor van Riemsdyk (top) and Brian Campbell converge on Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog during a game on March 19. (Getty Images)

On the night the Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup, eight exhausting months into the 2014-15 season, Duncan Keith played more than 30 minutes. Brent Seabrook played nearly 28, Niklas Hjalmarsson played nearly 26 and Johnny Oduya played more than 24.

Trevor van Riemsdyk? He played 4:30 — and only 16 seconds in the third period — as the Hawks clung to a one-goal lead and tried to stave off the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kimmo Timonen? He played 3:39 and sat the entire third period.

That’s how it was for the final two rounds, once Michal Rozsival broke his ankle. With van Riemsdyk a rookie coming off two major injuries, Timonen a shell of his former self and David Rundblad a liability in his own end, coach Joel Quenneville was left with only two reliable pairings, and he rode them into the ground. It worked — and the big four reveled in it — but it’s something nobody wants to try again.

‘‘It was absolutely a challenge,’’ Oduya said. ‘‘We had to lean on the experience we had. It’s not something you ever plan on, but it’s the way it panned out at that time.’’

The upcoming postseason, no matter how long it lasts, should be vastly different. Defensive depth, a glaring weakness in the last two seasons, is now one of the Hawks’ biggest strengths. With Brian Campbell added in the offseason, Oduya reacquired at the trade deadline, van Riemsdyk now a seasoned veteran in his own right and Rozsival and Michal Kempny ready to jump in, if necessary, the Hawks might be deeper on the blue line than they ever have been.

‘‘Those guys were unbelievable that playoffs,’’ van Riemsdyk said. ‘‘Any means necessary at that point. But we have a bunch of guys with some unbelievable résumés now and some new guys, too. It’s been awesome to be a part of it this year. It’s such a great group.’’

The top pairings are the same as they were in 2015: Keith with Hjalmarsson and Oduya with Seabrook. The difference is Campbell and van Riemsdyk, a smooth-skating duo with some offensive flair that Quenneville trusts and isn’t afraid to play in important moments. As Quenneville put it, ‘‘We’re comfortable with anybody against anybody.’’

In a 5-1 victory Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the Hawks’ best all-around defensive efforts, no defenseman played less than 16:59 (van Riemsdyk) and no defenseman played more than 21:59 (Keith).

Quenneville has been touting the fact that he has eight defensemen he can roll with on any given night, though he has been sticking with the same three pairings lately to allow them to get into a rhythm for the postseason. Rozsival hasn’t played since March 10, and Kempny has played only once since then.

‘‘This is the deepest team on the back end I think we’ve ever had,’’ Oduya said. ‘‘You never know what happens down the road with injuries or different things, so that’s a positive for us. It gives us more options. Certain nights, some guys might be more on fire than others, so we can lean on different guys on different nights.’’

The last time Campbell played a playoff game in a Hawks jersey, he played a team-high 28:53 in a Game 7 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. And while Campbell and everyone else on the blue line would relish the chance to play such gaudy minutes again, they all know the Hawks are better off if it doesn’t come to that.

‘‘Those things change all the time, but I feel like we’ve got a pretty veteran and solid back end that’s been around for a while,’’ Campbell said. ‘‘We’re all feeling good, and hopefully that’s a factor for us. Thirty minutes is obviously a stretch to play on a continuous basis for two months if you want to win. So it’s a good thing we’ve got going on right now.’’

NOTE: The Hawks recalled rookie forward Vinnie Hinostroza from Rockford. He had six goals and eight assists in 48 games with the Hawks before being sent down Feb. 24.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Blackhawks shake mini-slump by throttling defending champs

Tomas Jurco hopes first goal is the start of something good

Back to top ↑