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Versteeg focused on returning to lineup

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks got back on the ice Wednesday after taking two days off between series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Forward Kris Versteeg skated on the fourth line at right wing during line rushes and looks to get back in the lineup for the start of the Western Conference Second Round.

Versteeg, who was reacquired during the first quarter of the regular season in a trade with the Florida Panthers, was a surprising scratch Sunday in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues. Instead, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville went with rookie forward Joakim Nordstrom, who made his postseason debut at right wing on the fourth line.

"You just have to get ready for the next one," Versteeg said. "Obviously you always want to play, but you have to understand what the coach feels and what's best for the team. It's something you want to fight through and come back and be a factor in helping the team."

Chicago's opponent in the second round is contingent upon the outcome of Game 7 of a first-round series Wednesday at Pepsi Center in Denver between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Whichever way it goes, Versteeg is looking to get back into a game and contribute positively.

"Well, I know I can still play," Versteeg said. "When I'm playing good I can be a help to the team. Right now, it's just about getting back to that, finding your way, reaching deep down, gut-check time, you know? Hopefully when you get your chance, you come through for the guys."

Versteeg said Quenneville explained his logic for scratching him in the final game against the Blues, so he's not in the dark about what needs to improve.

"He's certainly got some experience in his game," Quenneville said. "[We're looking for] more speed and more directness, attack type of a plays, more straight ahead and kind of complementary to how our team plays. I thought he was coming on at the end of the year, and we're going to need him as we go along here."

Versteeg had two goals, two assists and a minus-8 rating in 2012-13 for the Panthers and played 10 games before an ACL tear in his right knee ended his season.

After reconstructive surgery, Versteeg returned to the ice this season for Florida, and scored two goals with five assists and a minus-9 rating in 18 games before the trade. He scored 10 goals with 29 points and a plus-9 rating in 67 games with the Blackhawks, before assisting on two goals in the first five games of the postseason.

In the season prior to getting injured, Versteeg helped the Panthers reach the playoffs by scoring 23 goals and 54 points in 71 games, so getting replaced in a huge game by a rookie was a shot to his ego.

"That's obviously tough," Versteeg said. "I'd be lying to you if you say that you don't want to be out there helping the team. Every time you get a chance to pull on a jersey, it's an honor. I know that by missing a full season last year. So I know every time you get the chance to pull on an NHL jersey, it's something special. It's something you always want to do."

As for the pending series, the Blackhawks will have home-ice advantage if the Wild advance and will fly to Denver on Thursday if the Avalanche win. Quenneville played in Denver as an NHL defenseman and coached the Avalanche, so he knows all about how the altitude difference might affect the lungs of players who don't play there regularly.

He downplayed the effects when asked Wednesday, but admitted coaching decisions are a little different as the visitors at Pepsi Center.

"Whenever we go in there, it's something we want to make sure that shift lengths … you want to make sure you've got to go shorter," Quenneville said. "We need better changes, matchups can be trickier and there will be different challenges as you go along there. But we've got some key guys on their team that we can talk about, but we'll talk more about that [Thursday]."

That's because there's still a chance they'll have to talk about the Wild instead.

"It's going to be intense," Quenneville said of either potential matchup. "If it's Minnesota, not a lot of room. Colorado, you know, they've got a great attack. So there's a little different with any team you play. It's more so how we play that we focus on and we make some adaptations to what the opponents are going to do."

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