Updated: May 15, 2014 11:26PM
For most of the regular season, the Blackhawks had a fourth line that was reliable and consistent.
Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith were the one constant throughout the season as coach Joel Quenneville mixed and matched and tinkered with the top three lines. It emerged as a true checking line, a shutdown line that started the overwhelming majority of its shifts in the defensive zone, determined to prevent a goal and flip the ice. Perhaps most important, it averaged between 10 and 15 minutes per game, easing the burden on the top guys.
But with Smith and Kruger bumped up in the lineup against the Blues and Wild, the constantly changing, makeshift fourth line played only a handful of minutes a night. And the Hawks missed it.
“I’ve sure missed it,” said Bollig, who has been averaging only about five minutes in the playoffs. “Obviously, we played together a good portion of the season. We had a nice roll there where we kind of found our niche together.”
It’s always a risk to etch a lineup in stone these days, but Quenneville reassembled the fourth line at practice Thursday, and the trio expects to be together for Game 1 against the Ducks or Kings on Sunday afternoon. It gave the Hawks a more familiar — and a deeper — look.
“We played with each other a lot, we kind of know where we’re going to be and it helps us get pucks out of the zone,” said Smith, who has spent time on the first and second lines this postseason.
Bollig is just itching to get back in a game after being suspended for the last two games of the Wild series for boarding Keith Ballard. He also was a healthy scratch in Game 2 after playing the first 89 games of the season. He said it was tough to have to sit and watch.
“I wasn’t looking to hurt anyone,” Bollig said of the hit. “I don’t think anyone’s out there to hurt anyone. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.”
And hopefully — certainly for Bollig’s sake and possibly for the Hawks’ sake — that fourth line can regain its minutes and regain the role it played so well all season.
“Our role during the season, we kind of knew we were going to be out there against another team’s top one or two lines,” Bollig said.
“So you kind of know when they come over the boards, so are we. So it’s nice that he put us back together. I don’t know if that’s the role we’re going to play again. Hopefully, [it is]. But if it is, we’re going to be ready for that.”