ST. PAUL, MINN. - Niklas Hjalmarsson has let his play do plenty of talking during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks defenceman has been a shot-blocking machine and fared very well, along with partner Johnny Oduya, while going up against the opposition’s top lines.
For the next while, though, Hjalmarsson won’t be chatty, unable to speak after being struck in the throat by a puck in Game 2 of his team’s series with the Minnesota Wild.
“He’s a tough character. He’s a Swedish Viking,” Oduya said Tuesday morning of the fellow Swede. “He’s one of a kind.
“I was more worried he got hit in the eye or something like that. I didn’t see what happened. But obviously he boosts morale for the team. We have a couple guys that step up and block a lot of shots, especially on the PK. It’s something we need.”
Hjalmarsson was injured when Jonas Brodin’s point shot hit him in the throat. He was down on the ice for a few moments and gingerly went to the bench, but was soon back out. In fact, he didn’t even miss a shift.
“I think we’re all accustomed to him not missing shifts or a beat,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “Just keep right on going through games and consecutive games and not missing even practices, as well.”
It would seem the biggest impact in the short-term will be how he communicates on the ice.
“There’s some times where you’d like to have some communication with your partner, with a goalie, line changes, who’s up and not, who’s got who, sometimes coming to the bench,” Quenneville said. “But he’s a smart guy and I think he’s pretty familiar with his partner, the goalie, those situations and we’ll see how they adapt around the changes, how that plays out.”
A Keith to victory?
St. Patrick’s Day is a distant memory at this time of year, and not just because it’s often a blurry night for revellers.
When you’re a week into May, that day in mid-March is ancient history.
For Minnesota Wild defenceman, it feels like an eternity since then, being it’s the last time he played before suiting up for Tuesday’s clash with the Blackhawks.
“A Long time coming. It’s been a couple months, but I’m excited to play, I’m excited to get back in,” Keith Ballard said. “I’ve been feeling good for the last week and a half or so. A lot of rehab. I had to get strength back in my leg and get feeling good.”
To say it has been a tough go for Ballard would be an understatement.
In his first season with the Wild — he signed a two-year, $3-million US contract after being bought out of his deal with the Vancouver Canucks — Ballard suffered an early season concussion, then broken ribs and most recently a groin injury.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo opted for Ballard instead of Jonathan Blum over Nate Prosser, who had a tough outing in Game 2.
“He’s been out for a little while, but this is a guy that’s a very big part of our team,” Yeo said. “Looking at last game, looking at some of the things that we’ve seen, we had a lot of opportunity to get the puck on the blue line and he’s a guy that can move across the line with his head up and maybe get some of those (shots) through.
“His skating ability is a big part of it too. Plus he brings a competitive edge, which is important against a team that wants to hang on to the puck. So you need a physical presence along with that skating ability to help you separate and alleviate some of that defensive zone time that you’re faced with.”
Jumping into playoff action isn’t easy, but Ballard has experience of playing at this time of year.
“The game’s picked up a considerable amount since the last time I played. I think the biggest thing is not try to do too much, especially early,” he said. “Whether it’s stuff like short shifts, making easy plays, getting yourself into the game a bit. But at the same time, you want to make an impact. You don’t want to come in and just be a passenger and try to just get through the game. It’s a fine line.”
At least the wait to return is over. Missing games is no fun at any time, but all the worse during the second season.
“It’s been a lot of fun in one sense just watching the team and going through that first series with (Colorado) and experiencing those ups and downs,” Ballard said. “That Game 7 was amazing. As a player it’s tough to not be a part of it, but at the same time, you have to be here to support them and make sure you’re ready if you get the chance.”
Gloving every minute
Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry is known for his talent. He’s also known for being a top-rate irritant.
Therefore, people weren’t shocked to see the footage of Perry taking his ratness to a new level in his team’s series with the Los Angeles Kings.
While Kings forwards Jeff Carter had put his gloves on the bench during a TV timeout, Perry used the water bottle he was drinking from to spray liquid into his opponents gloves.
“I’ve never seen that before. It’s pretty funny,” said Wild winger Zach Parise, who caught the clip while watching highlights. “It would p--- me off, but it was good.
“I don’t think it’ll happen too often, but maybe I won’t leave my gloves on the boards like that.”
Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg hadn’t seen the incident, but was hardly shocked.
“That sounds like Corey Perry, though,” Versteeg said. “He’s a player you’ve got to watch. He’s greasy. He’s also a great player, so you forget he’d do that kind of stuff.
“It’s funny, unless you’re Jeff Carter. They’re friends, aren’t they?”
Most players would quickly get another set of gloves, so the harm would be minor.
“It wouldn’t bother me, but it would annoy me,” Parise said. “And then I’d laugh.”