Heavy minutes for top defensemen is only option for Blackhawks

Rolling with their top four of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya isn't just the right play for the Blackhawks, it might be their only option.

Going back to before Tuesday night's Game 2 three overtime affair, there was a lot of discussion and otherwise about how Joel Quenneville has utilized his stable of defensemen for the Chicago Blackhawks. A thin blue line group, he's primarily used the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya as his crutch during the entire postseason. But with Tuesday night's game headed to the tail end of a third overtime, that utilization came to the forefront of any Hawks discussion.

Duncan Keith logged 49:51 of ice time in the 3-2 win, with Brent Seabrook spending 47:46 out there. Q iced Hjalmarsson for 47:35 and Oduya for 46:06. Those are absurd TOI numbers. The disparity between the top four and the other two was absolutely tremendous, as Kimmo Timonen went for just 16:45 and Kyle Cumiskey spent 18:34 on the ice. Had this game found a way to end in regulation, Timonen would have been on the ice for barely nine minutes of ice time, while Cumisky, who saw the ice for less than a minute in the third period, would have been out there less than seven.

Obviously there's an incredible disparity between the Hawks top four defensemen and otherwise. We can attribute at least some of this to the absence of Michal Rozsival, who's lost for the playoffs. He was able to save the likes of Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya from logging too heavy of minutes, though Duncan Keith has been seeing that type of absurd percentage of time among blue liners all postseason.

But with the Blackhawks forced to plug David Rundblad into the lineup for Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks, where he logged 10:47, and then rolling with Cumiskey as the sixth defenseman for Tuesday's game, they may not have a choice but to continue rolling with the defensive lines as they are.

The triple overtime win painted a pretty accurate picture of how those fifth and sixth defensemen tend to fare, given the personnel they utilize, regardless of their defensive partner. Timonen finished with a CF% of 37 on Tuesday. That's bad. He only had one clear giveaway, but at the same time, a simple eye test does the job for the veteran Finn. He's a complete liability on the blue line given how slow he is at this stage of his career. He's not moving well, and it's evident.

Cumiskey was decent, in terms of his Corsi, as he finished at a 54% clip in CF%, but also consider the minuscule sample size in which we can actually discuss his performance. Despite logging so few minutes, he still managed to turn the puck over three times.

Of course, it's important to note that Johnny Oduya didn't fare particularly well on Tuesday, and by that I mean that he was awful. His six turnovers led the team, and his CF% of 40 was in front of only Timonen. He also saw the least amount of offensive zone starts of any of the Hawks' defensive corps. We can at least partially attribute that to such a low Corsi number, but he was visibly off. He's had some rough moments this year, but he looked healthier, and subsequently better, as the season wore on. He's not as bad as he was on Tuesday.

That isn't necessarily a sentiment we can share about the likes of Kimmo Timonen or Kyle Cumiskey or David Rundblad. Timonen has been a bust as a trade deadline acquisition, for no other reason more than his age. Cumiskey has such little time logged at the NHL level this season that letting him try and find his footing at this stage of the game would be an unwise move. David Rundblad is a disaster in his own zone, as evident in Game 1 against the Ducks. Say what you want about rust, that's nothing new. It was the case all year.

As a result, the Blackhawks are in a position where throwing the top four out there for such heavy minutes isn't just the right move from a personnel standpoint, but it's their only option. A triple overtime affair is brutal for sure, but this team had a long layover before this series. Provided they don't see more games head that type of distance, they should be okay to withstand it.

The defense has been a concern all season. That's not going to change. But going with Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya is the right play here in order for the Blackhawks to get past the Ducks in these Western Conference Finals.

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.