Veteran Kimmo Timonen will play his first game of the Stanley Cup final in Game 4 tonight. After watching some of their younger guys struggle, the Blackhawks feel Timonen’s veteran experience could help them on the back end.
CHICAGO – This is Kimmo Timonen’s last, best chance to get his name on the Stanley Cup and he plans to make the most of it. That’s because the Chicago Blackhawks, who may have to keep their defense corps together with bailing wire and duck tape soon, have turned to the 40-year-old for Game 4 tonight.
By appearing in Game 4, Timonen is assured of having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup if the Blackhawks come back and win the series. That would not have been the case had he not played in the final. League rules stipulate that players who play 40 regular season games or play one game in the Stanley Cup final get their names on the Cup. Teams can apply for exemptions and likely would have for Timonen, but by playing he is both assured of his spot and given a chance to make a contribution to the effort. Timonen said after the morning skate that regardless of the outcome of this series, this will be his last NHL season. That should make playing these last games even more special.
“We have a really good chance to make something good here, but it starts tonight,” Timonen said. “Tonight is the only game we have to win and that’s it. This is the moment.”
The Blackhawks are turning to Timonen, largely because the results using the likes of Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad have not been good. Trevor van Riemsdyk came in for Game 3 and will likely stay in the lineup and see spot duty, along with Timonen. Johnny Oduya, who suffered an upper body injury in Game 3 of the final, did not take part in the morning skate, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he will likely play.
Timonen is a veteran of more than 1,100 games and has played 102 more in the playoffs, but few of them will be bigger than this one. He played in the final for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Blackhawks in 2010 in his only other extended playoff run to this point in his career. After appearing in every Blackhawks game in the first two rounds, Timonen has not played since Game 6 of the Western Conference final.
“Do I feel like I’m 25? Yeah,” he said. “It’s a good nervousness. It feels like a game day and I know it’s a big game. If you’re not nervous this time around, you’re lying to yourself.”
It has been a long road back for Timonen, who was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg last summer and didn’t play until March 2, shortly after the Flyers dealt him to the Blackhawks at the trade deadline for two second-round draft picks. At one point this season, Timonen speculated that he might have to retire, so playing for the Stanley Cup at this point is something of a bonus. Timonen has struggled at times during the playoffs, but his experience is something the Hawks are counting on coming to the fore.
“He gives us some predictability,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Timonen. “I think his coverage in the ‘D’ zone, strength in the puck area. He’s smart, experienced. I think he did a good job for us throughout the playoffs. Gives him a chance to get in here in a good moment, a big moment. His reads and his position awareness and coverage in his own end will help him.”
That won’t be the only change for the Blackhawks going into Game 4. Bryan Bickell, who struggled badly in Game 3 after coming back into the lineup, will sit out and Kris Versteeg will draw back in. Quenneville acknowledged Bickell has been “all right in the playoffs,” but hasn’t scored the way he has in past seasons. It’s an indictment of Bickell’s game that Quenneville feels Versteeg can give the Blackhawks more offensive production. Bickell had nine playoff goals when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and seven more in their march to the Western Conference final last spring, but has zero in 18 playoff games this post-season.
“I think (Versteeg) gives us a threat offensively, defensively aware, strength in the puck area,” Quenneville said. “He can make some plays. I think he can add to some of our offense.”
The Lightning, on the other hand, will likely go with the same lineup from Game 3. Goalie Ben Bishop is clearly laboring with what looks like a significant groin problem, but took the full morning skate. He would not say one way or the other after the morning skate whether he’ll play, but it would be a surprise if he did not appear in the net. “I think we’re in the same holding pattern we were 48 hours ago,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “7:20 puck drop. You’ll get to see then.”