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Line changes could breathe new life into Hawks

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn't wave a white flag when he broke up his top line during the third period of Friday night's game against the Flyers, but it was definitely an admission that something needed to change.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien have been a staple of Chicago's lineup since the beginning of the second round, while Toews and Kane have been together throughout the postseason. But after three games and two periods of the Stanley Cup Final that saw the trio combine for 1 goal, 4 assists and a minus-13 rating, Quenneville shuffled the lines and broke up Toews and Kane.

It didn't result in a victory in Game 4, as the Flyers held on for a 5-3 win to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2. But the line maneuvering definitely worked and helped the Blackhawks trim a three-goal deficit down to one in the game's latter stages.

Kane found himself on a line with Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland, and while they didn't score at even strength, they generated scoring chances. Kane set up Bolland's 5-on-3 goal that pulled the Blackhawks to within 4-2.

Andrew Ladd joined Toews and Byfuglien on the remnants of the top line and the trio was on the ice for Brian Campbell's goal with 4:10 remaining that cut the Flyers' lead to 4-3.

Call it energy, a change in strategy or just a wake-up call, but the moves gave the Blackhawks a chance to erase a huge deficit and provided a boost to a team that looked lifeless offensively during the first two periods.

"I think it was good for us in the third period," said Kane, who added he's not sure what the line combinations will be for Sunday night's Game 5. "I think we balanced out the lines a little bit. It got the energy going, too."

Aside from an adjustment that needed to be made when Ladd was injured during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against San Jose, Quenneville has been rolling the same lines for a better part of the postseason. But Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has brought a dynamic to this series that wasn't there against the Blackhawks until now.

He's getting in the face of Byfuglien, knocking around Toews and just flat-out getting in the way of the smaller Kane. No one in the Blackhawks locker room said yes when asked if Pronger was intimidating them, but everyone conceded that he has gotten the better of things during the series.
"He's a good player, he's one of the best of all-time you can say," said Blackhawks center Patrick Sharp, who stayed with Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky during the third period rally. "He's managed to do it in the old rule before the lockout and he's been able to change his game a bit and still be a dominant defenseman. As far as intimidating, I don’t know if he's intimidating anyone, he's just a good player out there.”
Kane also tipped his hat to Pronger, but acknowledged the Flyers' line of Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, which has been matched up against Kane-Toews-Byfuglien for most of the series, has done its part, too.

"He's really good with the puck," Kane said of Pronger. "He makes good passes and he's not just strictly defense. That makes it tough on you. When you're out there against him, he's pretty big. He has a big reach and he takes up a lot of time and space.

"I'm going to give a lot of credit to their forwards and the way they've been coached as far as how to back check us and play us in the zone at the top, and that seems like where we're struggling a little bit."

The Blackhawks know all about breaking up a team's dynamic top line, but certainly not their own.

The Sharks were forced to separate Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley during the West Finals thanks to the outstanding checking of the Dave Bolland-Kris Versteeg-Ladd line. It didn't pay dividends for the Sharks, as Marleau kept up his scoring pace while Thornton and Heatley couldn't find their groove.

Kane said he wouldn't be upset if he's moved away from Toews, almost making it sound as if they're a couple dealing with the stress of being together too often. Perhaps some time apart will help them click during those times they are together.

"We've played together a lot throughout our career. And sometimes this happens where you hit a little bit of a wall and you need to mix things up," Kane said. "Then, throughout our whole career it seems that, whether it’s been 10 or 15 games that we haven’t played together, we'll flip back together and it seems like we have that chemistry right back.

"So I’m sure we’ll see each other on the ice again, whether it’s power play or different even-strength shifts here or there or maybe we’ll be playing together."

If Quenneville decides to make the changes from Game 4 permanent in Game 5, he's not worried about the same thing happening because of how familiar the Blackhawks are with each other from playing together on different lines during the regular season. With Kane and Toews potentially on different lines, chemistry will have to be immediate with the biggest game of the season just a day away.

"I think as we've gone along all year, we're not afraid to mix it up," Quenneville said. "We have a lot of options at our forward options. A lot of guys can play with each other, and it gives you some versatility as well. You always want your top guys being out there in key situations. But I think guys have played with each other at some point throughout the year."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL

Author: Dave Lozo | Staff Writer

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