May 25, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period in game five of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
I don’t know about you, but it still hasn’t quite hit me that our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in six years, but it will. This time around, the Hawks will be facing off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and while team comparisons and predictions will be forthcoming, there is one question I am curious to see how the Blackhawks answer…
One of the lineup changes that occurred relatively under the radar going into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks was the benching of the newly acquired Kimmo Timonen.
There has certainly been a tremendous amount of hoopla regarding the Blackhawks essentially only rolling four defensemen after the injury to Michal Rozsival and it was interesting to see who Coach Joel Quenneville would use to fill the void. The natural candidate was David Rundblad, who ended up being on the ice for two of the Duck’s goals in his debut, so Kyle Cumiskey took over, who by and large was invisible in all statistical categories except TOI (time on ice), though he barely registered there as well. Cumiskey and Timonen would remain in the lineup for the next several games, amidst the call-ups of several defensemen from the Rockford IceHogs.
Then going into Game 6, the unexpected happened: David Rundblad replaced Kimmo Timonen in the lineup. For many fans, myself included, this was a welcome, but relatively uneventful change.
Let’s face it, Timonen looked like a 40-year-old against a Ducks team that openly declared they would be targeting him for their physical brand of play, and like Rundblad, he also made his share of bad plays that directly and indirectly led to Ducks goals. So the question is then why would he be replaced by Rundblad to begin with, especially given Coach Q’s known penchant for playing veterans over young developing players?
Initially many thought Rundbald was brought back in because his age would allow him to log more ice time than Timonen, but this didn’t prove to be the case, as during Games 6 and 7, Rundblad averaged just over five minutes of playing time. However, perhaps the most likely explanation is that Rundblad’s youth made him a bit more durable to the Ducks’ punishing play and was therefore less prone to injury than the aged Timonen, who would have put the Hawks in an even worse defensive situation had he gone down for the count.
Of course some of the more conspiracy-estque theories out there speculate that Q-Stache has been deliberately limiting Timonen’s ice time to keep him fresh for just the right moment, as a kind of ace in the hole. If this were in fact true, that moment certainly hasn’t arrived thus far in the post season, perhaps until now.
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As you may have already heard, the Tampa Bay Lightning are far from a bruising and bullying team like the Anaheim Ducks. Rather, the Bolts are more like the Hawks: a fast squad with a lot of fire power.
It’s against this kind of team in the Stanley Cup Finals that Timonen’s veteran experience may finally payoff. There are only two ways to beat a young and fast squad like the Lightning: be faster and be smarter. This is where Timonen’s talents may come in handy.
While Timonen probably can’t skate with the Bolts stride for stride, his wealth of NHL experience will likely enable him to see the whole ice far more effectively than the Lightning’s greener forwards and allow him to counter their moves before they’re even made. At least that’s the theory…
This much is certain, the Blackhawks won two very critical games in the Western Conference Finals with Timonen off the ice, and Coach Q has already been burned by getting too cute with line change ups *cough* WCF Game 3 *cough* after a victory, so his willingness to insert Timonen back into the mix probably may not be that great.
At the end of the day, we knew that Blackhawk’s GM Stan Bowman’s acquisition of Kimmo Timonen would either be boom or bust: Timonen would either return from his lengthy blood clot hiatus and regain his veteran all-star form, or…well, as of now we all know what the other side of that coin looks like.
Timonen came to Hawks with the hope of adding a Stanley Cup to his long and distinguished career, but as he’s quickly learned, everyone who hits the ice for the Blackhawks must earn their keep. Now, in the Stanley Cup Finals, we will see if Timonen has earned that chance.
FOR THE DAGGER!
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