Flames to rely again on reserves of top three defencemen

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley believes in the recovery power of his big three on the blue-line. T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have been heavily worked not only in the playoffs, but ever since captain and top defenceman Mark Giordano tore his bicep Feb. 25.

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley believes in the recovery power of his big three on the blue-line.

T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have been heavily worked not only in the playoffs, but ever since captain and top defenceman Mark Giordano tore his bicep Feb. 25. On Tuesday, the NHL released its second-round playoff schedules and Calgary will open its best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal Thursday in Anaheim.

The Ducks will have had seven days off when second-round action begins, three more than the Flames after both teams won their respective first-round series.

Hartley joked earlier this week that Brodie, Russell and Wideman were still in an ice bath two days after eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in six games. But given their puck-moving roles in an offence built on speed and pressure, Hartley said managing the trio’s energy was a priority even before the post-season.

“We asked those guys to play lots of minutes,” he said Tuesday. “They’re very important in our game. We just don’t want them to defend. They’re basically our motor offensively.

“Those guys have the power of recovering very well. They’re great athletes and they want those minutes, they love those responsibilities. They’re giving us unbelievable hockey.”

Brodie, Russell and Wideman rank fifth to seventh respectively among NHL defencemen in post-season minutes at an average of 27 per game. They contributed a combined three goals and nine assists against Vancouver.

Brodie and Wideman skated Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome for the first time since Calgary closed out the series Saturday. Russell, the NHL’s leading shot-blocker in the regular season, was among a handful who didn’t.

“We’re in the gym and working hard regardless if we’re on the ice or not,” Russell said. “It’s different situations for every guy.

“With the minutes we’ve played, obviously we have to make sure we get the rest that’s required, especially when you do get a few days off.”

The Flames and Ducks will have two days between Thursday’s opener and Game 2 on Sunday. A New Kids On The Block concert is booked for the Honda Centre on Saturday.

The third game in Calgary will either be next Tuesday – the same day as the Alberta election – or May 6 if Detroit wins its first-round series Wednesday against Tampa Bay and advances.

Game 4 is set for May 8. The schedule for the remaining three, if necessary, is May 10, 12 and 14. How much rest impacts a series is subjective, says Hartley. If a team wins, it was just enough and if one loses, it was either too much or too little, the coach said.

Brodie says the adrenaline of the playoffs provides fuel for his hard minutes, which include defending against the opposing team’s top line.

“Rest is always important but at the same time when you get into a routine of playing every other day, it makes it easy to stay in the games and always be ready,” Brodie said. “Sometimes too much rest, it takes you 10 minutes or a period to get into the game and sometimes that’s too long and it’s too late.”

With the tireless drive of a lead sled dog, Brodie has filled the void created by Giordano’s absence as a bedrock player at both ends of the ice.

“He’s a world-class skater,” Hartley said. “He can log ice time. You ask T.J. and he probably wants more. He probably wants another 10-15 minutes. He never sweats, he’s never out of breath.

“He’s that guy that can log lots of minutes, can play solid defensive hockey. This year, I saw a big, big progression in his willingness to jump into offence.”

Giordano, a Norris Trophy candidate when he was hurt, underwent surgery on his bicep March 4. He is skating apart from his teammates but Hartley gave the impression the odds are long on Giordano returning later in the playoffs.

“My longest shot is training camp,” the coach said.

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