The Chicago Blackhawks will play their first Stanley Cup Final game in 18 years tonight, and they are hoping to win for the first time in the Finals since the 1973. The Blackhawks will go for that win without left wing Andrew Ladd.
Ladd left early in game four of the Western Conference finals with an apparent shoulder injury, but the Blackhawks and Ladd were optomistic that he could play after a week-long layoff before tonight's game. That optimism was misplaced.
Ladd missed three practices this week, but remained day-to-day for the start of the Finals. Now that Ladd is out for game one, Tomas Kopecky, who was a healthy scratch for the entirely of the San Jose series, will skate on the wing with Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland. Kopecky has practiced with his new line-mates all week.
Ladd has been an vital part of the Blackhawks' fantastic defense in the playoffs thus far. Dave Bolland has been getting a lot of credit from the fans and media for his play against Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton, but Ladd's play at left wing, shutting down Daniel Sedin and Dany Heatley, has been just as laudable. Kopecky offers a capable replacement to Blackhawks' coach Joel Quenneville, but Ladd's grittiness and consistency on both ends of the ice is something that the 6'3" Slovak will have a tough time recreating.
The loss of Ladd could shape the Blackhawks' lines in this, the biggest seven games of the season. If Kopecky is not capable of filling in — a tall order with Ladd's all-around game — the Blackhawks' checking line could falter. The logical line change would to be moving Marian Hossa to Dave Bolland's wing, but that would create an exploitable line of Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer and Kopecky. While Sharp has been great at center, that trio hardly seems like the second line on a Stanley Cup winning team. If that stigma proves to be true, the line changes for the Blackhawks could be more widespread than moving Hossa.
On The Third Man In's Stanley Cup Final preview show, (listen to my aimless rambling here) I expressed that my biggest fear going into the Final was not a lack of production from Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa, but rather the fickleness of head coach Joel Quenneville. Ever fast to make a change in the lineup, if the Blackhawks' line combinations prove to not work, it is my fear that Quenneville will not allow his capable players to figure it out for themselves.
Ladd's injury might be the first stage to the formation of my worst nightmare. Never did I imagine that I would say this, but the play of Tomas Kopecky is vital to the Blackhawks' success in the Stanley Cup Finals.