No matter how reticent the Blackhawks are to dissect Brent Seabrook's disappearing act, the playing time tells the story: Seabrook, one of the defensive stalwarts of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship core the Blackhawks so dearly worked to keep intact, is in a slump.
Seabrook's playoff-low 12:03 of playing time in the Hawks' 2-0 loss to the Red Wings is an alarming number for a player of his caliber on a five-year, $29 million contract. The eight-year veteran averaged 22:00 of ice time in the regular season, second highest on the team behind iron man Duncan Keith.
''Maybe we're talking about the matchup,'' coach Joel Quenneville said when asked why the pairing of Seabrook and Nick Leddy (8:38) had limited ice time in Game 4. ''We've been looking at pairings across the board, whether we're looking for more even minutes as we go along. But moreso the pairing and the matchups were [why] their minutes were down the last couple of games.''
With the Blackhawks trailing 3-1 in the series and facing elimination, Quenneville indicated changes in the defensive pairings -- currently Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Seabrook-Leddy and Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya -- could be made for Game 5 on Saturday night at the United Center.
''We'll see,'' he said.
But pressed on the matter of Seabrook's playing time, Quenneville acknowledged it was a performance-based reduction. Seabrook, who had eight goals and 12 assists and was a plus-12 in 47 games in the regular season, has no points and is a minus-4 in the postseason.
''Usually it's reflection of your performance and your contribution,'' Quenneville said.
But when it comes to lighting a fire under an under-performing player, Quenneville usually does it with playing time and healthy-scratch benchings rather than public floggings.
''Sometimes your minutes are higher than others in games or stretches of games,'' Quenneville said. ''But at the same time, we want to make sure everybody's got confidence. And we want to make sure their importance to the team is something that ... getting everybody going is part of it as well. So sometimes, it's earned. And sometimes there's hope to get more, too. We'll see.''
Seabrook spoke with reporters Friday about the team's predicament, but would not address the playing-time issue.
''I don't really want to talk about that,'' he said
Asked if this series has been a struggle for him personally, Seabrook's one-word answer said it all.
''Yep,'' he said with no further comment.