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Niklas Hjalmarsson lets his play do the talking

Updated: June 8, 2014 6:41AM



ST. PAUL, Minn. —
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson can’t speak, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play hockey.

‘‘He’s fine,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said before Game 3 of the Blackhawks’ second-round series against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

Well, fine by playoff-hockey standards, at least. Hjalmarsson took a puck to the throat off the stick of Wild defenseman Jonas
Brodin in Game 2 on Sunday. He lay prone on the ice for a few moments
before rising and going to the bench in obvious pain.

He didn’t miss a shift. He rarely does.

‘‘He’s a Swedish Viking,’’ defensive partner Johnny Oduya said.

Hjalmarsson hasn’t been medically cleared to speak, and he was wearing some protection over his throat during the morning skate at the Xcel Energy Center. He played in Game 3 but faced some unusual difficulties on the ice because of his inability to communicate with Oduya, goalie Corey Crawford or anybody else.

‘‘There are some times you’d like to have some communication with your partner, with a goalie, line changes, who’s up and not, who’s got who,’’ Quenne-
ville 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.’’

The Hawks entered play Tuesday ranked second with 157 blocked shots in the postseason, and Hjalmarsson led the league with 30 through eight games. It’s one of the reasons the Hawks have been so tough to score on in the playoffs — and in recent seasons.

‘‘You’re taking away primary options by being in the shooting lanes, and all of a sudden they have to have their second and third looks, which aren’t as enticing,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘You’re denying them what they really want to do, and you’re willing to take one for the team. It’s an important art. It’s an important part of how you defend.’’

Defenseman Ryan Suter said the Wild will have to get creative to start getting shots through to Crawford.

‘‘[The Hawks] are a great shot-blocking team,’’ Suter said. ‘‘It seems like they’re always in the lane. I think if we can change the angle — maybe use the back wall, get pucks behind them — they might not come out so aggressive. It’s really important to try to get that puck through.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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