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McLellan lauds Sharks' 'fourth' line

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McLellan lauds Sharks' 'fourth' line
It's Jamie McGinn, Scott Nichol and winger by committee on the Sharks' fourth line and that's been plenty according to coach Todd McLellan.
CHICAGO -- There isn't a coach in the Stanley Cup Playoffs who is willing to show you his lineup the morning before a game. But Sharks coach Todd McLellan gave a ringing endorsement to his fourth "line" of Jamie McGinn and Scott Nichol, who have been playing with different wingers in this series as the Sharks have been dressing seven defensemen.

To hear McLellan talk about his fourth-line players Friday morning, it sounds as if he could use the same lineup for Game 3, meaning 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

"Ultimately it's almost nine players versus nine, then you have your fourth-line guys that have gone out and worked real hard on both teams," McLellan explained. "Our nine, regardless of who they play against, they have to find a way to make an impact on the game.

"I thought the Scotty Nichol/Jamie McGinn pairing with whoever they play with, if that's the route we go again, have been effective and worked real hard. We have to get our nine guys producing when given the opportunity."

It's possible McLellan could do some shuffling among his top-nine forwards, but what that means exactly remains to be seen.

"It potentially can," McLellan said if shuffling his lines can help make it harder for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to get the matchups he craves. "You know, if we get to that point and we do it, we'll have to monitor it closely."

Versteeg adapting well --
Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg has been challenged with a new role in these playoffs, one that has taken him out of his comfort zone. Instead of being relied on as a scorer, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville uses Versteeg as a checker.

Even Versteeg, who scored 20 goals this season, can't argue with the results.

The Blackhawks are up 2-0 in the Western Conference Final in part because their checking line, including Versteeg, Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd has done limited the even-strength offensive production of San Jose's top line.

"I'll do whatever it takes to win," Versteeg said. "We need guys buying into the system and buying into their roles and that's what we have right now."

Versteeg has had to sacrifice the most for his role. Bolland and Ladd were the Hawks top two checkers last season while Versteeg was a rookie second-liner scoring 22 goals. These days, he knows he can't be too risky or creative with the puck or else guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley will burn him.

"You have to make adjustments definitely in the offensive zone," Versteeg said. "You don't want to get too tricky at times or too fluid with the puck when you think you're feeling it and you start making dangerous plays. You have to be smart and put it in the smart areas. If you turn the puck over in bad areas it'll be in the back of your net pretty quickly."

Versteeg experienced playing with Sami Pahlsson last season and former Selke Trophy winner John Madden for stretches this season, so he knows how to play with centers that have a defensive mentality. One thing he's learned is to never take offense for granted.

"Steeger, offensively, has a little bit more finish than maybe you'd think for a checker, but at the same time when you're in that situation, when you're playing against top guys, you do still get opportunities to score and make plays and spend time in the offensive zone," Quenneville said. "That's what makes that line a threat offensively, as well as dependable defensively."

At home on the road --
There isn't much that compares to the feeling in the United Center during the Star-Spangled Banner. It's easy for the Blackhawks to feed off the emotion provided by the 20,000-plus fans and turn that positive energy into amped up play in the early going.

But the Sharks believe that rocking building can have the same effect on them.

"Certainly the energy in the building and the anthem help the Blackhawks," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "You feel some shivers on the bench when you're the opposition.  It can get you going, too.

"I know some of our players when they first experienced it, they enjoyed playing in that environment, the noise and the excitement. There are some rinks you go to in the League where you've got to find a way to poke yourself, get yourself going. This isn't one of them."

Hawks 'Hammers' quietly producing --
When people talk about Blackhawks defensemen, they start with the top pairing of stars Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook before going to puck-hounding veteran Brian Campbell.

Niklas Hjalmarsson sometimes gets overlooked, but not by teammates or Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. Hjalmarsson has played less than two full regular seasons in the NHL plus two playoff runs, and Campbell is impressed by the young defenseman's play.

"You ask Nik to do anything, and he does it," Campbell said. "I hope everybody sees the shots that he blocks and how many times there's a puck in the corner and he's the first one in there. He shoots it down the ice or shoots it to the winger and gets pasted in the corner. That takes a lot of guts. That play could be totally different if he doesn't do that."
 
Hjalmarsson has played in all 14 playoff games this season and has one goal with three assists. He also has a plus-5 rating – which is an important stat to the guy the Hawks call "Hammers."

"I've always blocked a lot of shots," Hjalmarsson said. "The worst thing I know is being on the ice when the other team scores. I'm just trying to do as much as I can to prevent that."
 
Sharks sick of rest -- After having eight days off between the second and third round, the Sharks are plenty familiar with having down time. But the two days between Game 2 and Friday's Game 3 seemed like an eternity to Ryane Clowe.

The extra day for traveling from San Jose to Chicago gives players more time to get acclimated to their surroundings, but it also gives the team that lost the previous game more time to think.

"I was saying that yesterday with (Joe) Pavelski that I wish we could play tonight," Clowe said. "Maybe after a win it's a little easier to enjoy it. But after a loss, you want to get right back into it."

"It's tough. You want to get playing right away," Joe Pavelski said. "There's been a lot of waiting for this series, but regardless of that, you win games and you wait, you feel good. You lose games, you want to get back because you're hungry and you want to get back in the series as fast as you can. It's important to take the day and try to use it to our advantage."

Keeping it simple helps overcome choppy surface -- In each of their home losses at United Center during the playoffs, the Blackhawks have laid the blame one general aspect of their game – they got too fancy.

Tonight for Game 3 they will try to keep it simpler like they do on the road, where they are 7-1 in the playoffs. The Sharks will do the same, according to forward Devin Setoguchi – who said choppy ice as the game wears on dictate a simpler style.
 

"When you start the game, the first couple of minutes the ice is good, and then once you get going it gets hot and the humidity goes up. Once it gets hot, the ice gets really choppy. Then it's just a more simplified game."
-- Devin Setoguchi

"When you start the game, the first couple of minutes the ice is good, and then once you get going it gets hot and the humidity goes up," Setoguchi said. "Once it gets hot, the ice gets really choppy. Then it's just a more simplified game."
 
That's when teams would be wise to be more basic in their attack.
 
"You can't always make the nice passes because they're going to be bouncing everywhere," Setoguchi said. "You have to make sure that you're being simplified and making the right plays. That's why on the road sometimes it's good. You simplify your game and don't try to do too much. Get pucks in, work 'em deep and get shots on net."
 
Fraser stays humble about sitting out -- Over the last two weeks of the regular season, Colin Fraser centered the Hawks' fourth line and got red hot during a streak that nearly pushed Chicago past San Jose in the Western Conference standings.

He went into the playoffs in the same capacity and played the first three games against Nashville before being scratched. He hasn't played since, but is keeping a positive attitude about it.
 
"It's tough," Fraser said. "Everybody wants to play, but as long as the guys keep winning it makes it a little easier, I guess. As long as we keep winning, it won't change. And it shouldn't. Stick with what works, you know? I just need to stay ready for when I get the chance."

Staff writers Dan Rosen, Dave Lozo and Brian Hedger contributed to this report.
Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning