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updated: 5/4/2014 7:50 PM

'Warrior' Hjalmarson always ready to sacrifice life, limb

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  • Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson barely skipped a shift after being injured in the first period doing what he does best -- blocking a shot.

      Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson barely skipped a shift after being injured in the first period doing what he does best -- blocking a shot.
    Associated Press

 
 

Niklas Hjalmarsson took one for the team Sunday afternoon in the United Center.

Man, did he ever. Somewhere in the neck area. Maybe the throat. Maybe under his chin.

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In NHL terms it was the wide-ranging, narrow-minded upper-body designation.

Hjalmarsson wasn't the star of the Blackhawks' 4-1 playoff victory over Minnesota, even with 2 assists.

But he sure did exemplify hockey's no-pain / no-gain mentality.

With 5:18 left in the first period, the Wild's Jonas Brodin launched a slap shot that never made it to goalie Corey Crawford.

Hjalmarsson's upper body -- wink, wink -- got in the way.

"It went off a body and hit him in the neck," Hawks' winger Brandon Saad said. "He battles. We expect that out of him."

Hjalmarsson went down like somebody whacked him on the back of the head with a shovel. If the puck had crashed a few inches over, he might have been able to mail his teeth to the dentist.

This would be trouble for the Hawks if Hjalmarsson were injured badly enough to miss some games, even though they were destined to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series.

Ah, but this is hockey, not tiddlywinks. Hjalmarsson didn't miss a shift.

"He's a warrior," Joel Quenneville said. "He takes (pucks) all over his body." However, the Hawks' coach added, "I don't think I've seen one where he took one today."

If you think it's remarkable that a hockey player would place himself in position to be hit by a speeding puck, it's even more remarkable that he couldn't wait to jump right back onto the ice.

Hjalmarsson struggled to the bench, had his impacted area attended to and minutes later was back protecting Crawford.

"It didn't look good at the start," Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said. "To seem him out there and doing it again, you see his character."

Welcome to hockey. This particular Hjalmarsson episode is a snapshot of what hockey players are made of and how important the Stanley Cup is to them.

Think about all the baseball players these days suffering from the suddenly fashionable oblique injury. Now think about how there might not be a player in the NHL playoffs who wouldn't continue to play with an aching oblique.

It would be convenient to say that Hjalmarsson reflects the Hawks' resolve. But it more reflects the entire NHL.

Take a puck to the throat, no big deal. Just keep on keeping on. There'll be time to rest in the off-season after undergoing neck-replacement surgery.

Blocking shots is nothing new for Hjalmarsson. He led the Hawks this season and was 19th in the NHL with 157 blocks.

Some collided with his chest. Some smacked an ankle. Some found some other part of what must have become a bruised and battered body.

Hjalmarsson has been playing for the Blackhawks since the 2007-08 season, which means his block total might be up to 1,000, leaving nearly as many black-and-blue marks.

But Quenneville says that Hjalmarsson "very rarely misses a shift." The Hawks' defenseman continues to stand, stoop and slide in the way of opponents' shots.

Outsiders might not always appreciate the game of jeopardy that Hjalmarsson plays. The Hawks No. 1 pairing of defensemen are Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who receive the most attention at awards time.

Ah, but the Hawks know how valuable Hjalmarsson is.

After some key members of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team had to be lost for salary-cap reasons, the Hawks made sure to retain Hjalmarsson.

So here he remains: A core member of last year's second Hawks' title team and of this year's team attempting a rare repeat.

"He's adept at (blocking shots)," Crawford said of Hjalmarsson, "and he helps me out a lot."

Sometimes taking one for the team can hurt so good.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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