“That might have been one of the best indirect passes you’ll ever see” is how Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville described defenseman Johnny Oduya’s bank pass off the glass in overtime to Viktor Stalberg that led to Bryan Bickell’s winning goal Tuesday in Game 1.
“I think Johnny tried to do that, to get that much air on it to draw the defenseman and just get it over his head to Viktor picking it up in full flight,” Quenneville said. “I’m giving him credit, thinking he saw it exactly how the play unfolded. It turned out to be a special pass.”
That’s exactly what Oduya was trying to do and it worked perfectly, giving the Hawks a 2-1 win. Just the fact he kept the puck in play, risking a delay-of-game penalty at that critical stage with less than four minutes to play in overtime, made it special.
“It started down in the corner and I saw Stalberg taking off and I was just trying to get it by whoever that defenseman (Ryan Suter) was there on the wall,” Oduya said.
“I was happy it wasn’t (Boston’s 6-foot-9 Zdeno) Chara or someone like that who probably would have picked it down, but it got over him and ended up in a good spot where Stalberg could make a great play. It worked out.”
Oduya’s teammates appreciated the difficulty of the pass, particularly fellow defenseman Brent Seabrook.
“It looked more like a football pass than a hockey play,” Seabrook said. “He was sort of in a tough spot there in our own zone and you had to get the puck out. Coaches say and defensemen talk about it, if you’ve nothing, the glass is your best friend.
“With a guy like Stalberg with his speed you can catch guys with that. You can make races for him and give him opportunities to skate and beat guys. He’s got to be one of the fastest guys, if not the fastest guy, in the league.
“It was nice to see that play happen and nice to see a defensive play like that lead to a goal.”
Jonathan Toews said that play doesn’t always work, but it did there.
“When you have speed like we do up front to throw pucks up into areas like that, it doesn’t always work out perfectly, but he made a heck of a play there,” Toews said.
Oduya’s big play capped a game in which he played almost 27 minutes, second highest among the defensemen to partner Michal Rozsival, who was over 27 minutes.
By comparison, Seabrook played 25:37 and Duncan Keith 25:17. Oduya thought that was both a reflection of how the game went and how he and Rozsival were playing.
“If you do good you usually get more ice time and vice versa, too,” Oduya said. “I think that just proves the depth on the team where we can have certain lines and certain pairings at times that may play a little bit more than usual. Whoever is maybe a little more hot that day might play a little more. As long as we can win games that’s what we want to do.”
Quenneville had Oduya and Rozsival on the ice at all the key times, especially in overtime, but it was Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson who drew the assignment of playing against Minnesota’s top line of Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
“I thought we had balance on the back end as far as the number of minutes,” Quenneville said. “I think it was more of matchups. Duncs and Hammer were getting the one assignment and it left a little bit more for the other guys.”
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