With the Stanley Cup Playoffs just around the corner, the Chicago Blackhawks have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference and are ready for another deep playoff run. The only question going forward is if they can roll four lines like they have been able to do in the past.
It’s the beginning of April, and the Chicago Blackhawks have shown us yet again that the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint. Patrick Kane is a top scorer in the league, Duncan Keith is still playing 25 minutes a night and Marian Hossa still hasn’t told anybody where his fountain of youth is.
The Blackhawks have plenty of guys on the roster who know what it takes to get your name written on Lord Stanley’s Cup, and they’re sharing that knowledge with the young Blackhawks. It’s really a beautiful thing to see winning traditions being passed on, but most of the challenge in doing so is the learning curve of playoff hockey.
It’s no secret that the ice shrinks once the regular season is over. Players only have a couple seconds to decide what to do with the puck before getting smothered. The game is played extremely fast, although in the coaches’ eyes it’s like slow motion.
Matchups are everything to coaches because every goal against you in every game counts down to your elimination. Coaches do their best to put their best defensive players on the ice to defend against the best offensive opponents, which leaves an opportunity for the third and fourth lines.
Bottom-six impact players
After spending a full year in the American Hockey League, many pegged Ryan Hartman as Andrew Shaw’s “replacement.” In his response to that comparison, Hartman simply said that the two play a similar game but, “I’m Ryan Hartman.”
Hartman was drafted in the first round and has shown this year that he belongs in the NHL. Scoring 18 goals with 12 assists this season, Hartman has played on every line and shown promise in all phases.
He plays in front of the net, he can score, he can make a great 2-on-1 pass, he can hit and he can defend his teammates. A lot of people talked about his decision-making and tendencies to take bad penalties when he came up from the AHL, but the strong leadership group on the ’Hawks has made it clear the team needs him on the ice, not in the box.
Rasmussen is a big body who can take draws, win battles in the corners, cycle the puck well and who has an underrated shot. He has been in and out of the lineup mostly because Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville wanted to get an extended look at trade deadline addition Tomas Jurco.
Moose only has 8 points on the year, but has 56 hits and 48 blocked shots. He seems to be taking a page out of fellow Swedish teammate Nicklas Hjalmarsson’s book.
There will definitely be times in this year’s postseason where it’s double OT and the ’Hawks are desperate for a goal from an unsung hero. Rasmussen could be the guy.
Jordin Tootoo / Andrew Desjardins
Blackhawks fans are quick to judge bottom-six guys because of their lack of “productivity.” Fans expect every player to produce points, otherwise they’re “a bum” or worthless. More veteran hockey fans will counter that argument saying that hockey players can contribute in more ways than just points. It’s just very hard to appreciate.
Much like offensive linemen in football, bottom-six players are probably doing a great job if you’re not hearing their name. To an extent, it is a little embarrassing that Corey Crawford and Andrew Desjardins have the same amount of points this year (1), but it’s their playoff performance that really matters, right?
Desjardins and Tootoo are prime examples of guys who know how to get their hands dirty. When the going gets tough and your team needs some momentum, these are your guys.
Whether that be through a big hit, an O-zone draw or a good shot block, bottom-six players don’t mind contributing in these ways. We’ve seen Tootoo’s ability to get to the front of the net recently and battle for greasy goals, for example.
It will be interesting what kind of impact these players will make this postseason, but there is no question that more than one series will be defined by unexpected role players.