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Improvement of Morin, Nordstrom, Regin creates puzzle for Quenneville

Possible playoff
line combinations

Left wing-Center-Right wing

Saad-Toews-Hossa

Sharp-Handzus-Kane

Bickell-Shaw-Versteeg

Bollig-Kruger-Smith

Other options: RW Morin; C Regin;
C/RW Nordstrom; C Teravainen

Updated: April 8, 2014 12:16AM



The best player on the ice for the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues was Marian Hossa because, well, he’s almost always the best player on the ice. After that, though? Patrick Sharp certainly could make a case. Duncan Keith, too. Corey Crawford also was sharp. They’re the usual suspects, of course.

But maybe the second-best player for the Hawks was Jeremy ­Morin. Joakim Nordstrom was very good, too. Peter Regin quietly has played very well for weeks now. All three have played big roles in the Hawks’ three-game winning streak, which followed a three-game skid.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to show ourselves and show what we can do,” Nordstrom said.

The sudden depth charge came by necessity, but it might have ­created a difficult choice for coach Joel Quenneville.

“It’s important for the whole team,” veteran Michal Handzus said. “In the playoffs, you’re going to need more than four lines. You always need depth guys. They make the coach’s decision hard, who’s going to be in the lineup and who’s not.”

And that’s just it. Assuming Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are back next week for the playoffs, there’s a strong chance that Morin, Regin and Nordstrom will watch Game 1 from the press box. Unless Quenneville makes a relatively drastic lineup decision or three.

Fifteen quality forwards for 12 spots — and that’s assuming that another option, Teuvo Teravainen, isn’t in the mix. It’s one of those “good problems” that coaches love to have.

But it’s a problem nonetheless.

“We think about that probably every minute of the day,” Quenne-ville said of the impending lineup decisions.

Nordstrom seems like the most likely odd man out. He has been solid, but not spectacular, in a small sample size. And he easily can step in at center or wing should the need arise in the postseason. Morin and Regin, however, are trickier. Morin has been a difference-maker, and Regin has been an every-day player since the Olympic break. Both have earned a chance to play in the postseason, but where?

At right wing, Hossa, Kane, Kris Versteeg and Ben Smith aren’t going anywhere. At left wing, Sharp, Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell are locks, and Brandon Bollig has played all 79 games so far and seems penciled in for good. At center, Toews, Andrew Shaw (who also can play wing) and Marcus Kruger are locks.

Perhaps a platoon between Morin or Regin and the struggling Handzus, with Smith moving to center on nights Morin plays, could work. But Quenneville already has said that Handzus will get the first shot at second-line center, the spot he held down so effectively last spring.

In other words, for Morin, Regin or Nordstrom to crack a healthy Hawks lineup, something has to give. And there’s not much to give.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Morin said. “Every time I’m in the lineup, I’m going to try to do the most to stay in the lineup.”

These aren’t insignificant decisions, either. As Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock put it last spring, postseason series are won by third and fourth lines, because just about every playoff team has a strong top two lines that effectively cancel each other out. A Morin or a Nordstrom — or a Regin or a Smith, for that matter — could make the difference in a seven-game series.

Last postseason, there was consistency in the lineup and Quenne-ville’s decisions were relatively easy, the Viktor Stalberg saga aside.

It won’t be so easy this time around.

“We like tough decisions,” Quenneville said. “We welcome them. … Who knows? We’ve got a lot of options here going down the stretch, which we like to see.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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