Two Returns: One Surprising, The Other Necessary
We’ve entered the Twilight Zone, Chicago Blackhawks fans. I’m not sure we ever thought we’d see another game in which defenseman David Rundblad was wearing an Indian Head on his uniform. But that day has arrived at perhaps the strangest of times.
According to various Blackhawks beat writers, Rundblad will slot in for Viktor Svedberg on the blue line in tonight’s fourth game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series against the St. Louis Blues. Svedberg played pretty poorly in three playoff games, committing three minor penalties and not proving himself trustworthy. But instead of going with either Erik Gustafsson or Christian Ehrhoff to replace Svedberg, coach Joel Quenneville has gone with a player most of us thought he’d never point to again.
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That player being Rundblad, of course. The Swedish defenseman could never gain Q’s trust after being shipped from Phoenix to Chicago in the 2013-14 season. He played only five games in that campaign, followed by no playoff action, between starting in 49 contests during the 2014-15 regular season. He added five playoff games under his belt in 2015, and most of his time on the ice made Q and Blackhawks fans alike want to drink to the point of unconsciousness.
So it was amazing when Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman inked Rundblad to a new deal in the last offseason. Q wasn’t having any of that, as Rundblad saw just nine games in the 2015-16 regular season. The last one came December 13 against Vancouver, and he recorded two assists in those nine tilts. After that, he was almost immediately loaned to a European team, after which he returned to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. And that was that.
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Until it wasn’t. And now, Rundblad will be expected to step up for at least 6 to 10 minutes on a blue line that has seen its share of struggles. Q hasn’t liked the way Gustafsson or Svedberg has looked, and Michal Rozsival had a pretty awful Game 3 on Sunday after faring decently in the two games at St. Louis. It’ll be really interesting to see how Rundblad is deployed, assuming this isn’t some kind of trickery by Q. We do not have any idea yet of the defensive pairings, and there’s always a chance Rundblad slots in for someone else (Rozsival), or perhaps not at all.
A more logical and expected change for Game 4 came to the forwards unit, as Andrew Desjardins returns to the lineup in place of Dale Weise. The latter didn’t really do anything wrong in Game 3, but he didn’t do anything outstanding either. And with the Blackhawks’ penalty kill getting torched twice Sunday, having Desjardins back in the lineup was almost a necessity. It left the Blackhawks with these morning-skate lines:
These lines are close to as good as it’ll get for the Blackhawks at this point, minus the nuclear options involving combinations of Toews and Kane, or Kane, Toews/Teuvo and Panarin. The third line is a legitimate scoring threat, and the fourth line is a legitimate checking threat. The first line is still a concern due to Ladd’s and Hossa’s offensive struggles, but perhaps they’ll break out tonight. Or perhaps Q will go to his blender early.
Q had no reason to settle for his previous lineup despite it putting up 46 shots on Brian Elliott and the Blues. There’s still much to be desired from the Blackhawks, and we know Q likes to tinker in the playoffs until he finds that perfect fit. The Blackhawks just have to realize they’ll be running out of time for Q to tinker if they can’t pull off a victory tonight at the United Center.