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Stalberg likely to return to Hawks' lineup

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

It's not a guarantee, but it looks like Viktor Stalberg will re-enter the Chicago Blackhawks lineup on Monday night for Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinals series (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS) at Joe Louis Arena.

The best-of-7 series is knotted 1-1 with the next two games in Detroit, and the Blackhawks are looking to rebound from a lackluster 4-1 loss in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon at United Center.

Stalberg, a fast-skating right wing, appears on track to get back in the lineup at that position after practicing there on Sunday with the linemates he's spent most of the season with -- left wing Bryan Bickell and center Andrew Shaw.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after practice that Stalberg is "likely playing" on Monday night.

"I think you just keep playing the way I have all year," Stalberg said. "If we get to play together again, we've been effective all year, so I don't think you want to change too much.

"I don't want to make too big of a deal of it. I just want to get back in playing and hopefully that's [Monday]. We'll see what happens. If I get a chance to play, I'll do anything I can to make a difference and help us win these games."

Stalberg was clearly upset by the decision to sit him down, but he's focused on the next game instead of the two he sat out.

"I don't think [Saturday] would've made much of a difference what lineup you [had] when you play like that," Stalberg said. "We didn't play well enough, we weren't intense enough and we weren't hard enough, so we've got to [have] a better effort all the way around for us to have a chance in the series."

He also said the benching saga wouldn't necessarily act as a motivational factor.

"It's just frustrating," Stalberg said. "I don't think I'll play any different from sitting out … but I want to go out and play the same way I have all year. If they didn't think I did that the first round, so be it, but at the end of the day that's what made us successful all year -- personally and from our line's standpoint, too. I'm not going to change anything from what I've done earlier. I'm just going to keep playing the same way, try to be hard and tough to play against [and] use my speed to create something out there."

That speed might be the biggest reason Quenneville writes Stalberg's name back into the lineup. He scored nine goals and added 14 assists in the regular season, but the speedy Swedish forward's biggest impact often came while using his speed to play at both ends of the rink -- keeping the attention of opposing defenders.

"That's one of his strengths, his quickness and his speed -- be it off the rush, [or to] loosen up coverage and going wide on [defensemen] and maybe getting some entries [in] the zone," Quenneville said. "I thought he improved his game this year … nice to see [Stalberg] back in there [at practice] with the option [to play] and that line playing together. [They've] been fairly consistent and pretty effective for most of the year, so I think we can use his speed."

If Stalberg does get back into the lineup, it will be interesting to see what line combinations Quenneville forms. Veteran center Michal Handzus and defenseman Johnny Oduya did not practice, but Quenneville said both are fine for Game 3.

Without Handzus on the ice, center Dave Bolland bumped up from third to second line -- between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane -- and the third group reverted to the way it's looked almost all year with Stalberg back.

Even if Handzus plays, there's a chance he'll take a different role than second-line center -- he's played left wing on the fourth line before -- as the Blackhawks look to increase depth of speed in the top-three units. Quenneville said Bolland's familiarity with Sharp and Kane might play into it, as well.

"They played together a lot all year long and [Bolland] getting up to speed [after] being out for a bit, I thought he's progressed here, getting in the lineup, and we know what he brings come playoff time," Quenneville said. "He's got reliability on both sides of the puck and he's got that playoff intangible of being hard to play against that our whole team could've used more of yesterday."

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