As the Chicago Blackhawks prepare to head into a must-win Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference final, there are still questions about who will be lining up on the backend for Chicago.
The Blackhawks have tried Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad to fill the hole left by Michal Rozsival – and Kimmo Timonen has gotten his 10-or-less minutes per game – but there could be a new face on the blueline come Wednesday night’s crucial tilt: Trevor van Riemsdyk.
Before Monday’s Game 5 against the Ducks, and again on Tuesday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked about the status of van Riemsdyk, who is returning from injury and has been taking part in skating activities for the first time since wrist surgery in April. Monday, Quenneville said he hadn’t heard how van Riemsdyk’s skate went, but when asked whether or not the young blueliner would draw into the lineup for Game 6, Quenneville’s answer raised some eyebrows.
“I think it could be more than (van Riemsdyk being a black ace),” Quenneville said. “But I can't really say for sure on that.”
During Tuesday’s conference call, Quenneville, who has a penchant for being one of the hardest coaches to read and is reluctant to ever tip his hand, offered up that van Riemsdyk skated again Tuesday and will be part of the team’s morning skate ahead of Game 6.
The tough part for Quenneville, aside from the possibility of taking out either Cumiskey or Timonen for a rookie defenseman, is that van Riemsdyk hasn’t actually played an NHL game since Nov. 16 or suited up at all since March 28 when he skated with the Rockford IceHogs against the Utica Comets.
Early on in the season, van Riemsdyk was looking like an early candidate to put the Blackhawks apparent woes on the backend to rest, as he played third pairing minutes and was steady, if not outright impressive, in the time he logged on the blueline.
In his 18 games, he managed only one assist, but it was the play in his own end by the rangy 6-foot-2, 185-pound defender that made him an early staple of Quenneville’s lineup. Then came a left patella fracture in his leg after blocking a shot that led to him being out of action for nearly four months. After that, he suffered a wrist injury that required surgery.
Putting him back into the lineup for a crucial Game 6 would mean the possibility of having him caught flat-footed or out of position as he tries to readjust to the speed of game action. But for a Blackhawks team that is on the brink of elimination in the Western Conference final for the second time in two seasons, maybe a big risk could result in a bigger reward.