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Blackhawks evaluating defense pairs for Game 1

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks are expected to lean heavily on their top four defensemen in the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks, and their practice Thursday supported that belief.

Duncan Keith was paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson instead of 23-year-old David Rundblad, and Brent Seabrook shifted with Johnny Oduya rather than 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen.

Rundblad, Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey alternated shifts together as a makeshift third pairing.

"Let's see," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Let's [take] a look at different options as we go into [the series]. The pair that probably didn't see much of one another was David and Kimmo, so we'll see if we can utilize that as we go along in a game, but it's something we wanted to see."

Rundblad is the new face in the lineup. He'll get the first chance at filling in for injured veteran Michal Rozsival, who was lost for the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after fracturing his left ankle in Chicago's series-clinching 4-3 win against the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round.

Rundblad finished tied for third on the Blackhawks with a plus-17 rating in the regular season and will make his postseason debut in Game 1 at Honda Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). He might have a different defense partner than was initially expected.

Rozsival played with Keith through the Blackhawks' first 10 games and averaged 17:26 a game, and that's the spot Rundblad occupied during practice Wednesday. A day later, there was a different look.

Neither Rundblad nor Timonen is expected to soak up all of Rozsival's available ice time, which leaves a chunk of it to the Blackhawks' top four defensemen. Keith and Seabrook have been defense partners for the majority of their careers but haven't been a set pairing since January. Likewise, Oduya and Hjalmarsson usually play together despite being split a couple times this season.

After Rozsival was injured midway through the second period in Game 4 against the Wild, Quenneville went primarily with the pairings the way they looked Thursday. His reasons?

"Balance, maybe," Quenneville said. "You can talk about matchups and things like that. Either way, I'm sure [Keith and Seabrook] will see each other … and [Hjalmarsson] and [Oduya] will be together too. They [all] play a lot together, whether they're rotating with one another or not."

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