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Stanley Cup Playoffs: Blackhawks’ Mashinter Will Be Key

Andrew Gregory
Apr 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) and Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Mashinter (53) fight during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) and Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Mashinter (53) fight during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of stars on their roster. The defending Stanley Cup champions boast this year’s Art Ross Trophy winner, Patrick Kane, former Selke Trophy winner Jonathan Toews and two-time Norris Trophy recipient Duncan Keith, just to name a few. Names like Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Andrew Ladd are all known around the league and are expected to contribute to the ’Hawks attempt at a Stanley Cup repeat.

The Blackhawks have a tough first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup in the St. Louis Blues, who finished second in the Central Division with 107 points. The Blues playing style is very physical, and that allows them to wear down opponents. In the past three seasons, they have failed to make it out of the first round, but no team that has beat them has gone on to ultimately win the Cup.

The Kings defeated the Blues in six games in 2013, went seven games against the Sharks but were defeated by the Blackhawks in five games in the Western Conference finals. It was the Wild who defeated the Blues last season before being swept by the ’Hawks in the second round. The ’Hawks defeated the Blues in 2014, coming back from a 2-0 series deficit to sweep the next four games. That ’Hawks team defeated the Wild in six games and then fought the Kings tooth-and-nail before ultimately losing in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference finals.

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In order for the Blackhawks to break that trend and not get worn down by the Blues’ physicality, they have to limit it as much as possible. Having a physical presence in the game to deter the Blues from implementing their style should allow the Blackhawks to play a faster, more free-flowing game which suits them more than a physical battle. The only issue is, it is tough to find that player in the Blackhawks lineup.

Bryan Bickell wasn’t on any of the Blackhawks’ lines during their most-recent practice, and although he is a large player, he is still not a guy who can be the presence that keeps a physical team at bay. In Game 2 of the 2014 series against the Blues, Seabrook was suspended three games for a huge hit on St. Louis captain David Backes. The absence of the star defender allowed Sheldon Brookbank to step into the fold, and his physical presence helped limit the opposing team’s physicality, which led to the Blackhawks turning the series around in their favor.

In this season’s opening series, expect Brandon Mashinter to take on that role and be a key player for the Blackhawks. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger has played in many of the games leading up to the playoffs and is expected to start over Richard Panik and Dale Weise in Game 1.

Mashinter was acquired from the New York Rangers during the 2013-14 season and has spent the majority of his time with the Rockford IceHogs. This season, he has played in half of Chicago’s regular-season games, posting 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) and 23 penalty minutes.

’Hawks coach Joel Quenneville seems to have recognized what Mashinter can do for the Hawks in the series against the Blues, originally dispatching him only when players were injured. But he also began featuring near the end of the season once everyone was healthy. This run of games in the ’Hawks lineup could have been to get him acclimated fully into the system so he could impact this first-round series, which has been the expected matchup for quite some time.

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There have been many questions raised by fans regarding Mashinter being in the lineup rather than more skilled player such as Panik or Weise. If the ’Hawks make it past St. Louis, Mashinter can be replaced in the lineup by one of those guys in the second round, but his presence will be imperative against the Blues. He may have even given us a preview of that in the Blackhawks’ last game against St. Louis.

In the game between these teams last Thursday, which the ’Hawks lost 2-1 in OT, Mashinter took exception to a huge hit by the Blues’ Ryan Reaves on Eric Gustafsson. Mashinter went after Reaves, and eventually the two dropped their gloves and fought. It is that kind of presence that the ’Hawks will need in a potential seven-game series against their division rivals.

On a team full of household names, it seems ridiculous for a guy like Mashinter to have the most important role. Outside of ’Hawks fans and some other diehard hockey followers, most may have never heard of the Bradford, Ontario, native. His appearance on the Blackhawks’ third line next to Teuvo Teravainen and Tomas Fleischmann in Tuesday’s practice leading up to today’s opener probably took some fans by surprise, but Quenneville knows what he’s doing.

Mashinter may not score a goal in the entire series against the Blues, but expect his physical presence and ability to deter St. Louis from their normal playing style and to make a huge difference in this series and beyond for the defending Stanley Cup champions.

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