Niklas Hjalmarsson can’t verbally communicate with his Chicago Blackhawks teammates right now, a result of his taking a shot to the throat in Game 2. Still, teammates say he couldn’t help himself a time or two.
“I think I heard him yell a few times last night,” Patrick Kane said. “So maybe that's the energy of the game or the adrenaline that you get from playing.”
Still, for the most part, Hjalmarsson is silent, and has to remain that way for a bit. But be it through some signs on the ice or through intuition, the communication between the Blackhawks and their defenseman remains fine.
Hjalmarsson just went about his business on Tuesday night, playing more than 17 minutes and blocking four more shots to add to his NHL postseason-leading total of 34. Nobody was surprised that Hjalmarsson’s game continued despite the lack of verbal communication.
“It's a different situation getting hit in the neck. But he came out, did what he had to do, still played great and still did what he does for our team,” Kane said. “So, I think that's one of the guys you really respect come playoff time, you know, blocking shots. He did it again in the first period, where he blocked one and it looked like he was down and out, and came back and played. He's been doing that a long time for us."
Of course, that blocking came with more pain on Tuesday. Hjalmarsson hobbled off after blocking a shot off his ankle but, again, played through it. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson’s instincts get him through this voiceless time.
“I haven’t talked to him about how challenging that aspect was in the game last night. Maybe we’ll get an answer,” he said with a bit of a grin. “I think the hockey sense takes over, whether his instinct is naturally to maybe yell or talk in the middle of a shift on the ice.”
For defensive partner Johnny Oduya, there’s no real need to talk things over; the two have played together long enough to know what the other is doing.
“Obviously, there might be times where a quick callout or something would help out a little bit, but mostly I know where he is,” Oduya said. “I can still help him out and talk to him. I don’t see it as big as a disadvantage, really, no.”
Who knows how tough this lack of verbal communication is on Hjalmarsson. One thing is for sure, however: his game is still coming through loud and clear.
“There’s a lot of special people on our team and he’s been really tough,” Oduya said. “Toughness is not always how hard you hit somebody. A lot of times it’s what you can take and go through, just being fearless. That’s something I think he proves and he does that every night. I don’t know if you get surprised or not. Sometimes; but you wonder what goes through his mind when you get hit with pucks like that.”