Balanced lines are key to Blackhawks’ playoff plans
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter April 15, 2014 10:50PM
Updated: May 17, 2014 6:43AM
Patrick Kane returned to practice Tuesday on the Blackhawks’ third line with center Andrew Shaw and winger Bryan Bickell. With no questions asked.
‘‘That’s what the coaches are here for, to set some lineups,’’ said Kane, who missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a knee injury. ‘‘All of us have played with each other at one point or another. That’s one of the strengths of our team — the depth and how many players can play in different situations.
‘‘It seems like we’ve got a lot of balance throughout our lineup right now. I’m sure that’s what they’re looking for.’’
Indeed, balance seemed to be the key factor as coach Joel Quenneville — a fully loaded roster at his disposal for the first time in four weeks — unveiled his probable lineup for the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. With Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Kris Versteeg; Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa; Bickell-Shaw-Kane and Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith, Quenneville has each of his three top scorers — Sharp (78 points), Kane (69) and Toews (68) — on a separate line.
‘‘All the lines have comparable ingredients, with the ability to score and play without the puck,’’ Quenneville said Tuesday after the Hawks practiced at Johnny’s West. ‘‘They had a lot of lines together in the playoffs last year, can fluctuate with centers as well. But [Kane] and Bicks were together a lot last year in the playoffs.’’
Saad’s top-line assignment with Toews is a shot at sparking the talented 21-year-old forward, who slumped at the end of the regular season and was a healthy scratch against the Blues on April 6.
‘‘We feel he’s capable of playing against top guys,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He’s played with Jonny a lot the last couple of years. [Versteeg] has played in some big situations. Certainly has the capability of working well together. He did play a little bit there with [Toews and Saad] recently. That line look pretty good together.’’
Quenneville is counting on the veteran savvy and playoff experience of Handzus, his second-line center. Handzus had four goals and 16 points in 59 games this season.
‘‘He’s useful in a lot of ways — predictable, dependable,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘I thought last year he was a big factor. . . . Whoever he’s played with, that line was getting the job done for us, and that’s what we’re looking for now.’’
The odd man out appears to be forward Jeremy Morin, who scored four goals in the final five games. He’s likely to be called upon at the first sign of goal-scoring struggles.
‘‘Mo at the end of the year gave us some energy,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He scored some big goals. We’ll see how it works out.’’