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Role players giving Blackhawks big lift lately

Thursday, 04.08.2010 / 2:08 PM / NHL Insider

By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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Role players giving Blackhawks big lift lately
Chicago's third- and fourth-liners are contributing in a big way as the playoffs approach
Their names aren't household variety, but Chicago's role players are rising to the top as the regular season winds down.
 
Casual observers might not be too familiar with Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Adam Burish or Colin Fraser. They also might think of a large, warbling former football analyst if you bring up John Madden.
 
It doesn't mean any of their contributions to the Blackhawks' current five-game winning streak is any less significant. The Hawks' secondary players are playing first-rate hockey, and the team now is poised to win the top spot in the Western Conference; they entered Thursday's games tied with San Jose with 109 points, but hold the tiebreaker with 51 wins to the Sharks' 49.
 
"It doesn't matter which line is going," Versteeg said following a 4-point night in a 6-5 win Wednesday against St. Louis. "As long as everyone is contributing we're going to be successful."
 
Nearly everyone has contributed, which will make coach Joel Quenneville's job difficult when deciding who plays and who sits in next week's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Fraser's fourth line opened some eyes in wins against Calgary at home last weekend and on the road Tuesday at Dallas, while Versteeg and Eager were key parts of a six-goal explosion against the Blues that was keyed mostly by unheralded players.
 

"We've just been playing like a team. All the lines have been rolling and making smart plays. We're a handful."
-- Ben Eager

Eager's seventh goal of the season gave Chicago a 2-1 lead in the first and was followed 30 seconds later by Bryan Bickell's third of the season that drove Blues goalie Chris Mason from the game. Bickell had just been called up from AHL Rockford that day to replace Kopecky, who had been playing great before getting injured at Dallas.
 
Versteeg's shorthanded goal, his 19th of the season, came less than two minutes after Bickell's, and it put the Hawks up 4-1 after 20 minutes. In the second period, Ladd netted his 17th, and that was followed five minutes later by defenseman Jordan Hendry blasting his second of the season to put the Hawks up 6-1.
 
It all happened in a flash, showing why the Hawks are such a legitimate threat in the playoffs. Stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp didn't even register a single goal.
 
"We've just been playing like a team," Eager said. "All the lines have been rolling and making smart plays. We're a handful."
 
They're also easing Quenneville's mind about the Hawks' injury situation. Defensemen Kim Johnsson (concussion symptoms) and Brian Campbell (collarbone) have been out for an extended period, with Johnsson's return still unclear and Campbell just returning to the ice this week for light skates.
 
Kopecky (upper body) could be out for the final two games this weekend, and Hossa -- who was hurt in the first period against St. Louis -- didn't return after skating one shift in the second period.
 
The NHL also may review a slash by Dustin Byfuglien for a possible suspension, so the Hawks may really need their unheralded lines even more this weekend against Colorado and rival Detroit.
 
"We're looking for all lines to contribute," Quenneville said. "Not just as production lines, but just how we have to play."
Quote of the Day

I feel that responsibility, I've felt it for the last two years. We core guys get a lot of minutes, we get a lot of opportunity out there. Our teammates, the organization and fans look to us to be the guys to put the puck in the net and to create momentum out there.

— Jordan Eberle on taking his game and the Edmonton Oilers to the next level