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Blackhawks’ 4th line scraping for ice time

Second-round
schedule

Best of seven; * if necessary

Blackhawks vs. Wild

G1:

at Hawks, 8:30 p.m. Friday

G2: at Hawks, 2 p.m. Sunday

G3: at Wild, 8 p.m. Tuesday

G4: at Wild, TBD May 9

G5: at Hawks, TBD May 11*

G6: at Wild, TBD May 13*

G7: at Hawks, TBD May 15*

Blackhawks will face Wild in second round; Minnesota tops Avalanche
Corey Crawford channels confidence in chase for consecutive Stanley Cups

Updated: August 12, 2014 6:37PM



Brandon Bollig played all of 110 seconds in the Blackhawks’ Game 6 victory Sunday against the St. Louis Blues. Michal Handzus played nearly seven minutes on the penalty kill but less than four at even strength. And Kris Versteeg watched the game in a coat and tie.

That trio made up the Hawks’ fourth line at practice Wednesday. And if the Hawks are planning to make another deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’ll need more than just a few token shifts from that unit each night. The ability to send wave after wave of fresh players over the boards has been a major factor in the Hawks’ two recent Cup runs.

‘‘Anytime you can roll four lines and you have short shifts, it gets everyone involved, everyone in the game, everyone a lot of rest,’’ center Ben Smith said. ‘‘That’s the main thing — just keeping guys in the game, keeping guys involved and making sure everyone’s ready to go, especially as the series moves on into Games 4, 5 and 6. That’s big.’’

Of course, it’s kind of Smith’s fault that the Hawks have gone to a three-line rotation in the first place. Had he not fared so well every time he got a look at second-line center, he probably still would be the right wing on the Hawks’ go-to shutdown line, with Bollig and Marcus Kruger. But Smith’s well-earned ascension has forced coach Joel Quenneville to shuffle other people around. Kruger now is centering Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw on the third line, which likely will get the bulk of the defensive-zone draws.

So instead of having three scoring lines and a checking line, as the Hawks did for much of the regular season, they have two scoring lines and a checking line, plus a little-used fourth line.

Quenneville said it partly had to do with matchups against the Blues’ three-line rotation and partly had to do with the fact that the Hawks were short-handed so often. But Bollig, Handzus and Versteeg know it’s up to them to prove they deserve more minutes by playing well in the few they get.

‘‘You definitely want your minutes to stay up, but first things first, and that’s winning,’’ Bollig said. ‘‘So, obviously, there’s zero complaints. But you also want to be a bigger factor in the game. We need to play a simple game and play well in our zone, then hopefully create offense from that. . . . You’ve got to start with what you get and try to earn more.’’

Versteeg is a bit of a wild card. A more offensive-minded player, he has spent most of the season bouncing around the top three lines. Quenneville said he scratched him for Game 6 because he wanted to see him play faster and more directly. Versteeg called it ‘‘gut-check time.’’

Versteeg knows he and his new linemates can be difference-makers if they can earn more minutes.

‘‘It’s always important to use as many guys as you can because you’re playing every other day and the grind of the playoffs is so huge,’’ he said. ‘‘So I think when all four lines can factor in, it definitely helps the long-term success of the team.’’

That all said, Quenneville never has been shy about shaking things up. By the middle of the first period of the second round, Smith might find himself back on the fourth line, with Handzus back on the second, Versteeg back on the third and all four lines rolling like they were in the regular season.

‘‘Q will make those decisions; he’s done a great job so far,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We sometimes don’t understand, but we trust that he’s got a plan. He’s proved time after time that he knows what he’s doing.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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