“At the time, I didn’t think like that,” Rundblad said after practice on Sunday. “I just felt really sorry for Rozy. He’s been playing really good so far, too. That injury, too, it’s just painful to watch. I just feel bad for him. But at the same time, I’ve got to be excited right now. This is what you want to do, you want to play games. It’s no fun just to bag skate.”
It wasn’t how Rundblad wanted to get back into the Chicago Blackhawks' lineup, but Rozsival’s season-ending injury is what has enabled him to return. Rundblad will replace Rozsival come Game 1 of the Western Conference finals and play in his first career playoff game.
Rundblad, 24, may not have any playoff experience, but he is riding the confidence of coming off his best NHL regular season. He played in a career-high 49 games and had a career-high three goals and 14 points.
“I feel like this whole season so far has been my best since I came over here,” Rundblad said. “Now it’s the playoffs and it’s the best time of the year. I’m really excited right now.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville expressed confidence Sunday in Rundblad and his defensive ability, which was at times shaky during the regular season. His strength is considered his offensive game.
“I think he's been fine in his own end,” Quenneville said. “I think offensively he has some presence as well. He has some direct plays entering his own zone. Just make sure that you make the simple and the safe play and the obvious play.
“He's going to come in and play, and minutes are dictated by how he plays and how the score of the game goes. Other guys are accustomed to playing significant minutes. Every game's going to be different, but his play and the game and the score will play a lot into it.”
Rundblad will take Rozsival’s spot on the right side alongside Duncan Keith. Rundblad and Keith do have some familiarity with each other from the regular season.
Keith was also sure Rundblad would be able to handle himself in the playoffs.
“He’s pretty calm,” Keith said. “Sometimes he might have to calm me down. I think Rundy’s, you know, mature enough in his own mind that he’s able to do that. I think for sure that as defense partners we want to talk to one another out there and communicate on certain plays and what we see out there, and like I said, use one another as best we can to defend the rush and break the puck out.”
Rundblad felt fortunate to be paired with Keith.
“He’s one of the best D-men in the league, so it’s pretty easy to play with him, since he’s such a good player and he’ll be helping me a lot out there,” Rundblad said.
Quenneville especially leaned on Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook after Rozsival’s injury against the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of their second-round series on Thursday. Despite Rozsival’s departure, Quenneville still only gave Kimmo Timonen 8:25 of ice time in the game.
Quenneville wasn't sure how much he’d play his defensemen going forward, but he was OK with giving his top defensemen more minutes.
“I think it’s kind of the same philosophy always have; you’re playing to win that game,” Quenneville said. “D at certain times might get extended to play. Whether it’s Duncs playing 30 minutes in a 60-minute game, he’s had a lot of stretches where he had those kind of minutes.
“The other guys are accustomed to playing whether it’s low 20s and sometimes it gets up there a little bit more. They’ve all had games where they’ve played those kind of minutes. I think they’re smart enough positionally and aware of how they defend that they’ll keep themselves in plays. At the same time, we still want to be active in the attack. I think they can manage it. It’s tough to forecast in the middle of a game.”