CHICAGO -- The Anaheim Ducks were sure the Blackhawks’ top four defensemen were going to break at some point over seven games in the Western Conference finals.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had to be thinking the same as the minutes added up for Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya as the Stanley Cup finals went deeper. Eventually, they wouldn’t be able to sustain their play.
But in the end, the four defensemen, admittedly tired and banged up, withstood the Ducks’ hits, the Lightning’s speed and all the ice time, and on Monday, each took his turn lifting the Stanley Cup.
“[W]ith all the long games we played in the Anaheim series, this series, [they] didn't get the chance to relax at any moment,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Monday of his top four defensemen. “Every shift was huge. That's why their consistency in their game was a big factor, how well we checked.”
The minutes were one thing. After the Blackhawks lost defenseman Michal Rozsival to a season-ending ankle fracture in the final game of the second round, Quenneville began increasing the minutes of all four defensemen. He never had complete trust in any of the team’s defensemen who filled the fifth and six spots.
Over the final two series, a total of 13 games, Keith played 409:21, Seabrook 364:07, Hjalmarsson 352:21 and Oduya 324:30.
“The four everybody talked about, it was fun,” Seabrook said. “We love playing this kind of hockey. You’re going to do whatever it takes to win. We wanted to get it done tonight.”
Despite that load, the four defensemen didn’t become a liability for the Blackhawks. Keith had a plus-6 goal differential in 5-on-5 play over the last two series. Seabrook and Oduya each had a plus-1 differential. Hjalmarsson had a minus-2 goal differential. As a team, the Blackhawks allowed 10 goals in six games to the Lightning and just two over the final three games.
Oduya ran down what made each of the defensemen effective.
“[Keith’s] a special player,” Oduya said. “He has the ability to be on the ice a lot. Hammer [Hjalmarsson], he played almost the same amount of minutes. He is the most conditioned guy. Seabs is always in the right spot. He knows what to do. For me, it’s just to skate as much as possible and play position.”
Oduya played his position the last 3½ games with a tear in his left elbow. The Blackhawks couldn’t afford to lose another key defensemen, so he fought through the injury.
“Unbelievable, Johnny; he’s a warrior,” Seabrook said. “See what happened to him. I don’t even know what game it was, but he’s an amazing player. He’s an amazing competitor. He battled through and pushed on.”
All four defensemen certainly pushed on over the last two series, and the Blackhawks were rewarded for it.