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Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Words not essential for Hjalmarsson, Hawks

By Scott Powers

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson may not have been completely silent on Tuesday.

"I think I heard him yell a few times last night, so maybe that's the energy of the game or the adrenaline that you get from playing," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said Wednesday.

Niklas Hjalmarsson
Niklas Hjalmarsson stayed quiet on the ice -- literally -- on Tuesday after taking a puck to the throat in Game 2.
Hjalmarsson may have released some loud sounds in Game 3 of the Blackhawks' second-round series with the Minnesota Wild, but he kept his words to himself. He played Tuesday despite being unable to speak after taking a puck to the throat in Game 2.

The situation wasn't ideal for Hjalmarsson or his teammates, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn't notice any lapses due to it. Hjalmarsson still played a lot of minutes, was often matched up against the Wild's top line and still sacrificed his body to block shots.

"There was no communication last night with him," Quenneville said Wednesday. "He was quiet. But he still played through some tough shifts. I think in his game his instincts are always in the right place defensively and trying to get in lanes and kill plays. He's going to get some big assignments as well. I think the hockey sense takes over, and whether his instinct is naturally to maybe yell or talk in the middle of a shift on the ice, maybe -- I haven't talked to him about how challenging that aspect was in the game last night. Maybe we'll get an answer."

Hjalmarsson's inability to communicate had the greatest potential to affect defensive partner Johnny Oduya, but Oduya didn't find it to be an obstacle on Tuesday. Oduya believes his past experience with Hjalmarsson helped with that. They have played together for about 2½ seasons with the Blackhawks and also played for Sweden in the 2014 Olympics.

"I think after a while you know tendencies in people and people you play with," Oduya said. "That's why it's beneficial if you can stay in D pairings or you can stay with some guys for a longer time. Same thing goes with the D's communicating with Corey [Crawford] too.

"It's kind of the same setup where now I know what he's thinking of doing and makes it a little easier for me. I can play off that. And at times there's going to be situations where you still have to speak and know callout commands, whatever. Yeah, the better you know somebody, the easier it is."

No one would have faulted Hjalmarsson for being a bit more careful around flying pucks Tuesday, but he resumed standing right in front of them. He blocked four more shots in Game 3, including one that struck his leg and immediately sent him to the ice. He now has a league-high 34 blocked shots in the playoffs.

"It's a different situation getting hit in the neck, but he came out, did what he had to do, still played great, still did what he does for our team," Kane said. "So I think that's one of the guys you really respect come playoff time, you know, blocking shots. He did it again in the first period, where he blocked one and it looked like he was down and out and came back and played. He's been doing that a long time for us."

Oduya labeled what Hjalmarsson does as being fearless.

"Toughness is not always how hard you hit somebody," Oduya said. "A lot of times it's what you can take and go through, just being fearless. That's something I think he proves, and he does that every night. I don't know if you get surprised or not. But you wonder what goes through his mind when you get hit with pucks like that."