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Cumiskey, Rundblad fill hole for Hawks late in series

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Chicago Blackhawks defensemen Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad weren’t perfect in Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals.

They didn’t record a goal or an assist. They didn’t make any notable plays which decided the games. They didn’t play that many minutes, and it wasn’t as if every shift of theirs was immaculate.

While Cumiskey and Rundblad may not be the reasons why the Blackhawks defeated the Anaheim Ducks in the series’ final two games and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, their play didn’t cause the Blackhawks to lose, and that was just as important to the team.

Cumiskey and Rundblad solidified the Blackhawks’ fifth and sixth defenseman spots over the final two games. After Cumiskey, Rundblad and Kimmo Timonen combined to be on the ice for seven of the Ducks’ goals in the first five games, Cumiskey and Rundblad weren’t on the ice for a single goal against in the final two games. Timonen was a healthy scratch for Games 6 and 7.

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook appreciated what Rundblad, who played Games 1, 6 and 7 of the series, and Cumiskey, who played the final six games of the series, provided the team.

“I think they did a good job of coming in and coming into a tough situation,” Seabrook said after the Blackhawks’ Game 7 win on Saturday. “When you’re coming into Game 6 of the Western Conference final, not playing a whole hell of a lot the last couple weeks, it’s pretty tough, but it was good for us.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was careful how much he played Cumiskey and Rundblad in the final two games. Cumiskey saw 7:15 of ice time in Game 6 and 8:31 in Game 7. Rundblad played 5:53 in Game 6 and 5:35 in Game 7. Despite the short ice time, Quenneville spoke positively of both players late in the series.

“They both did a good job,” Quenneville said of them after their Game 6 performances.

The question going forward is whether Quenneville will continue to utilize his defensemen as he did in the Western Conference finals. He relied heavily on Duncan Keith, Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya and played the other two defensemen sparingly. Keith played 230:48 in the series, Seabrook 207:35, Hjalmarsson 205:03 and Oduya 186:42. The other defensemen’s minutes were much lower. Cumiskey played 48:52, Timonen 47:11 and Rundblad 22:15.

Cumiskey, Rundblad and Timonen will all be options for Quenneville in the Stanley Cup finals, and rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk could also be in the mix. Van Riemsdyk said Wednesday he felt like he was getting closer to being able to play. He had a wrist surgery in April and recently started practicing again.

The Blackhawks knew heading into the Western Conference finals their defensemen would be tested. Losing Michal Rozsival to a season-ending ankle fracture in the second round impacted the team’s defensive depth.

The Ducks’ game plan was to make life difficult on the Blackhawks’ top four defensemen, and they accomplished that. They beat the Blackhawks down over seven games, but just couldn’t beat the Blackhawks.

Keith admitted after Game 7 the Ducks were a challenge, but not one he and the Blackhawks’ other defensemen couldn’t handle.

“I feel good,” Keith said. “I'm excited to move on. Anaheim has a great team; let's face it. They're at the top of our conference for a reason, with big guys that can skate, with a lot of skill.

“It was a really tough series. But at the same time, you know, I think we're moving on for a reason, showing a lot of character, using our speed and skill. I don't think anybody's tired anymore this time of year right now. I think we're just excited to move on and be able to beat a great team like Anaheim and have the opportunity to try and beat another great team in Tampa Bay.”