In what was essentially a must-win game for the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Finals, the Presidents’ Trophy winners put more pucks behind Tuukka Rask than they did in the previous three games and knotted the series with the Boston Bruins at two games apiece.
Had they fallen short, winning three consecutive games would have proven to be a nearly impossible task, and although Chicago managed the feat against the Detroit Red Wings two rounds ago, that was against a far inferior defense.
Boston has smothered the deadly offense of the Blackhawks for large segments of the series by blocking shots, cutting off the star forwards as they are poised to make a play and back-checking ferociously.
Things turned around on Wednesday, though, as Chicago’s forwards solved Rask and the stingy defense that protects him, firing shots from all sorts of angles and outskating their markers.
This match had it all: goals aplenty, odd-man rushes, back-and-forth sequences, bone-crunching checks, a gutsy effort from Marian Hossa — who is still dealing with an ailment — momentum swings, a fantastic flow and an overtime winner from Brent Seabrook to cap it off.
As exciting as the events that unfolded were, one person who undeniably felt left out was Nick Leddy, whose ice time shrunk down to 2:37. Head coach Joel Quenneville entrusted his five other defensemen with minutes that may take their toll later on because of how intense and tiring every shift is at this time of the year.
It is not uncommon for depth forwards to be played sparingly, as Shawn Thornton and Kaspars Daugavins were given slightly less than six minutes of action to work with.
Here is the problem though: Boston still has ten forwards to pick up the slack, which is doable because the minutes are not as grueling in such a position. Defenders, on the other hand, will obviously play more shifts, and with each game being tightly contested, Quenneville took a massive risk by keeping Leddy out of the picture.
What is more bizarre is the fact that the 22-year-old did not commit any errors that would explain Quenneville’s decision to bench him. Actually, Leddy looked confident, and he even sprung Patrick Sharp on a break-away opportunity with a brilliant stretch pass in the second period.
The next guess would be that there is an injury, but Quenneville has already confirmed that Leddy is not being bothered by anything.
It clearly comes down to a lack of trust because there seems to be no other reasoning behind the matter. Chicago barely escaped with the victory, and Quenneville’s tactics in this situation remain awkward.
While Duncan Keith and Seabrook will constantly handle the hugest chunks of minutes admirably, everyone else did not look as comfortable. Michal Rozsival stepped up greatly by getting two point shots through traffic which led to goals by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, ending his night with a plus-3 rating.
But Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson were both on the ice for four of Boston’s goals, appearing shaky on numerous occasions.
Boston had their chances to close out the game and put nine fingers on the Stanley Cup, but now the series is deadlocked heading back to Chicago. Had they scored one more on Corey Crawford, who was ridiculously vulnerable on his glove side, Quenneville’s treatment of Leddy would be highly questioned.
His experience is least among the blue line corps, but with 34 games to learn from already, it is not as if he is just beginning his playoff dossier.
A fluent skater who can break out of his end and start a rush in the blink of an eye, Leddy adds a layer of threat to the offense’s cohesiveness. In order for that to occur, Quenneville must trust Leddy more than he did in Game Four and believe that he will have a positive impact for Chicago.
Deciding to rely on five defenders again may backfire on the coach next time.