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Quenneville's lineup changes spark Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Joel Quenneville takes a fair amount of criticism from Chicago Blackhawks fans for the tinkering he does with his lineup, but it seems to work more often than not.

The most-recent evidence occurred Sunday night at United Center, when more tweaks by Quenneville sparked a 2-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild in Game 5 of their Western Conference Second Round series.

The Blackhawks lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 heading back to Minnesota for Game 6 on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center (9 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS2), but it could've been a much different story were it not for some lineup changes paying off.

After watching his team stumble through a first period with six shots and trailing 1-0 at intermission, Quenneville went back to a familiar combination of forwards to spark the offense. Starting the second, he reunited a top-line combination that did a lot of damage in the regular season by putting left wing Patrick Sharp back with center Jonathan Toews and right wing Marian Hossa.

That was the line that eventually produced the game-winning goal, which Toews scored 4:33 into the third period.

"Well, the first period that [top] line was just OK for me," said Quenneville, whose players left the ice at the first intermission to boos from the home crowd. "I think [putting Sharp] there [in the second], right off the bat, it looks like they got a little spark off of it and they took off."

It wasn't Quenneville's only good decision.

The decision to insert forward Peter Regin into the lineup for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out golden too. Regin's hard charge to the net in the second drew a hooking minor against Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin at 8:35, which led to a power-play goal by forward Bryan Bickell to tie it 1-1.

Until that sequence, the Blackhawks were frustrated by a suffocating defensive effort that held their offense in check and made the Wild's 1-0 lead seem much larger. Regin didn't record a point or shot, but his play to draw that penalty changed the game a day after Quenneville decided to give him a shot.

"That's my game, coming through the middle with speed," said Regin, an unheralded in-season trade acquisition from the New York Islanders. "That's what I like to do and that's what I need to get back to [doing], coming with speed through the middle and get the puck and try to create something off that. That's always been my game. I got away from it a little bit, but I tried to go in straight lines and go to the net for the most part."

Bickell scored his sixth goal of the playoffs and 15th combined in the past two postseasons by standing in front of Minnesota goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on a power play. He tipped a puck shot by right wing Patrick Kane into the net after it hit the shaft of his stick and skipped off the ice between his legs.

That's normally the role filled by 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward Andrew Shaw, but an undisclosed lower-body injury kept him out a fourth straight game. Enter Bickell, a natural fit for that role with his 6-4, 233-pound body.

"He deserves [to be] on the power play without [Shaw] not being on the first PP in front of the net, and even on the second power play he's done a great job," Hossa said. "He's [gotten] a couple tip-ins and tonight a big goal by him. So if you put him in front of the net, good things happen."

Quenneville was rewarded for other decisions, such as playing defenseman Sheldon Brookbank in favor of Michal Rozsival and putting forward Kris Versteeg back into the mix.

Brookbank finished with a minus-1 rating, but blocked two shots and allowed Quenneville to sit the struggling Rozsival. Versteeg finished with one shot, but won four of five faceoffs and settled nicely onto the third line with Bickell and Regin in the third period.

What resulted was one of the first times all series that Quenneville felt comfortable enough to roll four lines, something that's been a staple of their success.

"[Regin] gave us some speed in the middle and I thought, [Versteeg] as well, that line was effective for us," Quenneville said. "It gave us more balance and the four-line rotation was alright as well."

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