CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy appears to be going through one of those turbulent dips in the ongoing maturation process of a talented young player.
The 22-year old played 2:37 over four shifts in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, which the Blackhawks won 6-5 in overtime against the Boston Bruins to even the best-of-7 series 2-2 heading into Saturday’s Game 5 at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
Leddy took one shift in the first period, two in the first nine minutes of the second, and one early in the OT that lasted 12 seconds.
After the game, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Leddy was fine from a health perspective. Quenneville was again asked Thursday about the decision to sit Leddy so long.
"In the course of a game, I think every game is different," Quenneville said. "We went into the game, I think we were waiting to see how things played out, certain matchups you're looking for in the course of a game. And we're on the road, sometimes you can't get it, and sometimes the score reflects it, and sometimes you get deeper in the game and you're going to wait and see -- but I think that was probably the case last night with the lead. Later in the game we didn't go to him too much, but we'll definitely visit with him as we go along here before the next game."
Sticking with the matchups notion for such a dramatic drop in ice time, Quenneville said Leddy might get over the boards more often in Game 5, when the coach can dictate who plays against whom more easily as the home team.
"Nick gives us a nice presence on the back end, gives us nice balance," Quenneville said. "We didn't play him a ton [Wednesday] night, obviously not much, but … we'll be home [Saturday]. We look to get him back going."
This isn’t a one-game anomaly. Leddy’s playing time has steadily decreased throughout the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, starting with Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota, Leddy’s hometown team and the franchise that traded his signing rights to Chicago in 2010, won that game in overtime for its lone victory in the five-game series. Leddy finished with a minus-1 rating and played 16:42 over 25 shifts, after playing more than 20 minutes and close to 30 shifts in the first two games, each a Blackhawks home win.
The only time Leddy has played more than 20 minutes since that game was in Game 1 of this series against the Bruins, logging 26 minutes over 36 shifts and finishing with a plus-2 rating in Chicago’s 4-3 triple-overtime victory.
Prior to Wednesday, Leddy hadn’t played less than 10 minutes in a game since logging 8:38 in a 2-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on May 23 at Joe Louis Arena, a defeat that dropped the Blackhawks into a 3-1 hole in the conference semifinals.
Leddy also didn’t play on any of Chicago’s four power plays in Game 4 of the Final, another tough playoff first for him to stomach. Already in his third NHL postseason, Leddy is still finding out the learning curve for young defensemen -- even the most talented -- is steep and challenging.
He isn’t the only lineup stalwart to land in Quenneville’s doghouse, if, indeed, that’s the reason for his in-game benching Wednesday. Forward Viktor Stalberg has found himself out of the playing rotation to start two of Chicago’s postseason series, including the first two games of the Cup Final, after playing 47 of 48 regular-season games and all five games of each series against Minnesota and the Los Angeles Kings.
"It's not easy to keep your confidence and then go out there and be prepared for the next shift or to go and do your job when maybe you haven't been on the ice for quite a while," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "There's some guys that maybe get their minutes or their opportunities reduced here and there, guys like [Stalberg] and [Leddy]. You try to talk to those guys just to stay with it because you know when they're out there they can really make a difference for us. That's a huge sacrifice that guys like that have to make for our team, and we know mentally they're going to be ready, and those sacrifices aren't going unnoticed by their teammates."