CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks could go in a couple of different directions when it comes to their last two defensemen for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could play together on their top line.
Then again, they might be split up against Tampa Bay.
Asked about his lineup on Monday, coach Joel Quenneville was just as elusive as his talented team.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was expected to travel with the Blackhawks to Florida, and Quenneville said he would be evaluated over the next couple of days.
The rookie defenseman is coming back from surgeries on his left knee and right wrist and hasn’t played an NHL game since Nov. 16.
The Blackhawks have leaned on their top four defensemen in the playoffs, and that much is expected to remain the same when they face the speedy Lightning in Game 1 on Wednesday night. But who lines up in the last two spots is an ongoing conversation.
“We’ll see on all the options,” Quenneville said Monday. “Van Riemsdyk will make the trip with us. We’ll gauge him with practice tomorrow. He skated today.”
Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad occupied the final two spots in the last two games of the Western Conference finals against Anaheim. Veteran Kimmo Timonen struggled against the physical Ducks, but could get back into the lineup against the Lightning.
If the top four defensemen keep up their current pace — Duncan Keith is averaging a gaudy 31:35 of ice time — then the last two spots will play less than 10 minutes apiece. But those minutes could be important against the high-scoring Lightning.
“They definitely have a lot of speed. You’re right on that,” Keith said. “They’ve got a lot of skill, too. They have forwards who have really good hockey sense. They’re in the final for a reason. We’ve said it before: It’s going to be a tough challenge.”
The Blackhawks are going for their third title in the past six seasons. They won it all in 2010 and 2013, and made it all the way to the conference finals last year before losing to the eventual champion Kings in seven games.
“Their skill is right up there in the league, second to none,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “It’s almost like the Harlem Globetrotters out there at times on the ice, the way they can pass it.
“You can see they’ve played together for a while.”
Chicago trailed 3-2 to Anaheim in the conference finals, and then roared back to take the series. Quenneville had Kane and Toews together for much of the last part of the matchup, and they combined for three goals and four assists in the final two games.
But Quenneville usually goes to the pairing of the captain and the electric Kane when he needs a spark, so they could be on different lines at the beginning against Tampa Bay.
“We’ll see,” Quenneville said. “It’s nice having some flexibility and we still haven’t made up our mind yet.”
Hard to pin down Quenneville and the Blackhawks at this time of year. Even with their run of success, Toews said he still draws the same excitement from playing for the Stanley Cup.
“I think we’re just trying to contain our excitement to a certain degree,” he said. “There’s still a few nights left before Game 1. I think last night for me was one of the toughest nights to get to sleep because of the excitement. I’m sure a lot of the guys share that same feeling.”