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Concerns over Blackhawks' defensemen playing too much are overblown

Believe it or not, this is pretty much par for the Coach Q course.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Game 2 of the Western Conference Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks went so long that it was almost felt like two wins should be awarded. With nearly six full periods and 120 minutes of action, the time on ice statistics for the game were pretty bizarre, and four Blackhawks defensemen exceeded the 40-minute mark while the other two were both below 20. If you ask the popular national media, that is a huge deal and evidence for why the Blackhawks might not win the Stanley Cup this year. But it's really not all it's cracked up to be.

To this point in the 2014-15 playoffs, the Blackhawks' top-four defensemen -- Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya -- have each spent 36 percent or more or the total minutes played on the ice, with Duncan Keith unsurprisingly leading the way with a 45.6 percent share of the TOI. While that seems a bit gaudy, that's not all that much different than it was last year, when each of the top-four played at least 32 percent of the time, with Keith leading the way at 42.68 percent.

In fact, since Joel Quenneville took over the Blackhawks in 2008, this has been his playoff M.O. Shortening up the bench isn't a last resort for him, but it's his preferred strategy. According to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, during the Blackhawks' 2010 Cup run -- which featured Jordan Hendry as the sixth defenseman -- Q played his top four guys 79.6 percent of the time, and in 2013 the top-four played 73.8 percent of the time. Prior to Game 2, Mirtle said the Hawks top-four had played 80 percent of the minutes in these playoffs.

Now, maybe this year feels different due to the extreme imbalance in skill that exists between the top four defensemen and the bottom two of Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey (or David Rundblad if he gets a shot again). In the past, those minutes not being played by the top-four, or by Rozsival, were being played by the very able Nick Leddy. While many feel that Quenneville didn't necessarily like or trust Leddy all that much, there's no question that when he was on the ice the Blackhawks were still in good hands on the back end. This year, you don't have that luxury. Cumiskey and Timonen are known for their skating and passing, but even if you could combine their skill sets, they're no Nick Leddy.

However, when Timonen and Cumiskey are playing, they're not playing together. Every single shift by those two was played alongside one of the top-four, usually Keith with Cumiskey and Seabrook with Timonen. So while they may present a bit of a liability, Q still has someone he trusts and relies on out there.

And while the Game 2 numbers are gaudy for the Blackhawks' defensemen, they still don't stand out as significant compared to the former trends. Of the 116:12 played in the game, Keith played, 49:51 (42.9 percent), Seabrook played 47:46 (41.1 percent), Hjalmarsson played 47:35 (40.9 percent), and Oduya played 46:06 (39.7 percent). While those percentages are higher than they have typically been for all of those players but Keith in these playoffs, they hardly are enough to make the case that the defense is going to be extremely worn out. The fact that the minutes among those top-four aren't extremely spread out is actually encouraging to me, as it shows Q made an effort to limit the load on his top guys and spread his minutes more evenly among his top d-men.

Those numbers for the Blackhawks top-four would be the 60-minute equivalent of about a 25-minute night for each of the 'Hawks top-four, which would probably not have too many people overly concerned. But since the game went on for so long and inflated the numbers, it looked much worse than it really was.

Further, the Ducks themselves had three defensemen exceed 40 minutes of TOI in Game 2. Francois Beauchemin, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler played 46:29 (40 percent), 44:07 (37.96 percent), and 40:21 (34.7 percent) in Game 2, and while those ice times and percentages are mostly below the Hawks' top-four, they're still pretty significant for a defensive corps that is praised for being so well-balanced. And yet the narrative remains that only the Blackhawks' blue line has TOI issues.

And what's more, among forwards, the Ducks' imbalance in TOI in Game 2 was arguably more significant than the Blackhawks' blue line imbalance. The Ducks top forward for TOI was Ryan Getzlaf, who logged 38:29, and their lowest forward in TOI was Jiri Sekac with 17:53. In fact, no one on the Ducks' fourth line of Sekac, Emerson Etem, and Richard Rakell played 20 minutes. In contrast, the 'Hawks' top forward was Patrick Kane with 34:26, and their lowest was Antoine Vermette with 21:14, and each member of Chicago's fourth line played more than 25 minutes. Both the Blackhawks and Ducks are constantly praised for the incredible depth, but it's obvious that Joel Quenneville trusts his depth up front more than Bruce Boudreau does in the tight overtime situations. Why isn't that a talking point?

The point here isn't to say that the Blackhawks are in a better position than the Ducks are in terms of "wear and tear" on their top players. It's clear that Q is having to rely on his top-four a lot, and it's happening a bit more than it has in the past. But that doesn't mean that all of a sudden it is a fatal flaw in the Blackhawks' game. This is hardly anything new for Coach Q and the Blackhawks during the playoffs. This is par for the Coach Q course.

Adam Hess is the creator and editor of Feathers in the Hat, and a staff writer at Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @FeathersInDaHat. Statistics via War-On-Ice and NHL.com.