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Quenneville leaves Blackhawks' top line intact

by Shawn Roarke / NHL.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It appears the band is back together for the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round.

Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were together Tuesday during the morning skate, suggesting they will form the top line when the Blackhawks, who lead the series 3-2, look to advance to the Western Conference Final with a victory in Game 6 against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, RDS2, TSN).

Minnesota, which has won all five of its home games this postseason, needs another Tuesday to extend the series to Game 7 on Thursday at United Center.

That top unit was reunited by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville for Game 5 and combined to score the decisive goal in the third period of a 2-1 win. Toews got the goal, slamming a loose puck past Minnesota goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov during a goalmouth scramble. Toews' linemates contributed to the scoring play; Sharp had the first shot and Hossa did some strong work along the boards.

That unit was dominant at times during the season but had not played together since the first week of March. Sunday was the first time the three players were on the same line for an extended time during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Joel is one of the best in putting lines together and finding different matchups during the course of a series," Sharp said. "I think that everything that we are doing, are going to do or will need to do for Joel, we have done at some point in the season. If Joel throws a system at us or an adjustment at us, I feel our team has been through it before and can adjust pretty easily."

Tuesday morning, Quenneville said his lines are about balance for the team, which is part of the reason he at times has hesitated to put three top players together on the same unit. But after it paid off with a series-changing goal in Game 5, it appears he is happy to go back to that well.

Few on the Blackhawks were surprised to see Quenneville go to that line in Game 5; he has a reputation for mixing and matching his talent.

"We are all pretty familiar with playing with each other and [Joel] likes to mix it up a lot and guys are playing well, he usually gives them opportunities," said Brandon Saad, who is on a reconfigured line with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane. "If you are playing well, you are going to get that opportunity to succeed. Obviously putting the big guns together had a huge momentum shift in getting that big goal."

All three first-line players have high-end skill and can present a nightmare for opposing teams to counter, but Saad said it is work ethic as much as talent that makes them so tough to defend.

"They are all skilled players and they have all been through it before," Saad said. "They all have that experience and they all work hard. That combination is a pretty deadly threat out there. Being able to compete with the skill they have is huge for us."

Here are the projected lineups:

BLACKHAWKS

Patrick SharpJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Brandon SaadMichal HandzusPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellPeter ReginKris Versteeg

Joakim NordstromMarcus KrugerBen Smith

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Niklas HjalmarssonJohnny Oduya

Nick LeddySheldon Brookbank

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Jeremy Morin, Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad

Injured: Andrew Shaw (lower body)

Suspended: Brandon Bollig

WILD

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Matt Cooke - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Cody McCormick

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner - Keith Ballard

Ilya Bryzgalov

Darcy Kuemper

Scratched: Mike Rupp, Stephane Veilleux, Jake Dowell, Carson McMillan, Nate Prosser, Jonathon Blum, John Curry

Injured: Matt Moulson (lower body), Jason Zucker (quad), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal)

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