Hoping to avoid a second straight home loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning that would put them on the verge of elimination, the Chicago Blackhawks planned to make a few lineup changes for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night at United Center.
Surprisingly, Coach Joel Quenneville decided to restore defenseman Kimmo Timonen to the lineup even though the 40-year-old Finn has struggled to keep up against speedy opponents. He’s averaging only nine minutes and 25 seconds’ ice time per game and did not play in the first three games of the final. Tampa Bay leads the series, 2-1.
Timonen is expected to replace Kyle Cumiskey. Quenneville said defenseman Johnny Oduya, who appeared to get hurt during Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory on Monday, likely will play Wednesday. Oduya and Duncan Keith skipped the morning skate — Keith usually does — so it was difficult to predict the defense pairings.
Quenneville also said Kris Versteeg would return to play left wing with Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. Versteeg will replace Bryan Bickell, who played Monday after missing the first two games because of a bout of vertigo.
Quenneville said he reinstated Timonen for several reasons. “He gives us some predictability. I think his coverage in the [defensive] zone, strength in the puck area,” Quenneville said. “He's smart, experienced. I think he did a good job for us throughout the playoffs. Gives him a chance to get in here in a good moment, a big moment. His reads and his position awareness and coverage in his own end will help him.”
Timonen said he was told Monday morning that he would play. “I’m really excited. It’s been a long couple of weeks,” said Timonen, who last played on May 25, in Game 5 of Chicago’s seven-game Western Conference final victory over the Ducks. “I'm obviously going to trust my experience and my instincts and try to help the team as good as I can. It feels great.”
Quenneville said he commended Timonen for being “a good pro. Not easy being in a situation before, you're not playing and want to be in the lineup in the worst way. He's been going about his business quietly, knowing that I'm sure deep down he's been waiting for this moment …. He's practiced well. Put him in the position to get in the lineup as well by the way he's handled things.”
Quenneville said he put Versteeg back in because “he gives us a threat offensively, defensively aware, strength in the puck area. He can make some plays. I think he can add to some of our offense.”
Versteeg said that, while the Lightning’s speed is a challenge, “we know we can play against any team in the league.” He added, “Speed’s important against these guys. You don’t get much time and space. They take it away fast. They have some big, strong [defensemen] that make you pay. Your space isn’t there so you’ve got to create a little extra, whether that’s taking a hit or doing an extra thing to create a little more space, you’ve got to do it.”
Center Antoine Vermette said the Blackhawks can draw on their experience of having overcome a 2-1 series deficit against the Ducks in the Western Conference final.
"This is a group that has been through a lot," he said. "We were in the same situation and kept it calm and confident and pushed it through. We’ll do the same here."