LOS ANGELES—How deep are the Blackhawks?
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, very, and poised to go deeper. After Thursday night’s staunch 3-2 conquest of the Los Angeles Kings, hockey’s best team since January is one victory away from advancing to the final stage of identifying a 2013 champion.
How deep are the Blackhawks?
On the bench, again quite deep. With Duncan Keith doing penance for one game, there were minutes and shifts available to the best available athlete. At a team meeting earlier in the day, Michal Rozsival learned that he would be a leading candidate.
“I was excited,” said the 34-year-old defenseman who signed as a free agent only a few days before the NHL lockout took hold in mid-September. Because gloom and doom pervaded the hockey world, his arrival in Chicago did not lead the 10 o’clock news.
But Thursday night, Rozsival deserved a headline. He played 25 minutes, 28 seconds. Only Brent Seabrook and goalie Corey Crawford were on the ice more for the Blackhawks, who responded from a bland Game 3 here to shut down the Kings, then beat them on goals by Bryan Bickell, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
Rozsival logged five plus minutes on the power play and another couple deployed as a penalty killer. Understand that his job description was not carved in stone. After coaches told him at lunch about his proposed emergency role, he had to justify their confidence in him. Actually, Sheldon Brookbank dressed because Keith couldn’t, but it was Rozsival who filled a gaping hole with steady reps.
“Dunc is our best offensive defenseman,” Rozsival said. “We need him and we will be glad to have him back (Saturday, United Center, Game 5). But I was happy to do what I could. It feels better when you are in a rhythm, playing like tonight on one of the two top pairings. You are more into the game than when you aren’t playing 20 or so minutes.”
Rozsival did not need to scout the Blackhawks when he went looking for potential employers last summer. He was part of the Phoenix Coyotes’ squad that beat the Blackhawks last postseason. The Blackhawks did not impress everybody during that six-game tournament, but Rozsival isn’t everybody.
“I thought then that this a very good team,” he said. “We aren’t quite there, but we are on the right track.”
Indeed, with the Boston Bruins in position to clinch Friday night, it might be healthy for the Blackhawks to operate accordingly. The Kings will bring a 1-7 road record to Chicago, so grabbing a 3-1 lead in this series could mean fewer bumps, bruises and frequent flyer miles for the Blackhawks, having halted Los Angeles’ 15-game winning streak at the Staples Center.
Bickell brought the Blackhawks even at 1-1 when goalie Jonathan Quick, screened, could not glove the puck cleanly. Bickell could have had his ninth of the playoffs later, but Kane, skating with Jonathan Toews now, made sure on a puck that seeped behind Quick. Hossa broke the 2-2 tie early in the third period, a period when the Kings managed only two shots.
“Tired?” said Rozsival. “Not when you win.”