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Saad, Stalberg off Blackhawks' top four lines

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It was only for a practice, and the Chicago Blackhawks don't even know the particulars of when and whom they'll face in the Western Conference Semifinals, but a message was sent to a couple of lineup regulars Saturday.

Rookie left wing Brandon Saad and 27-year old right wing Viktor Stalberg skated with white jerseys, rather than the normal black or red sweaters worn by members of the lineup.

Saad and Stalberg also skated outside the top four units for line rushes, with Stalberg placed at right wing on the fifth unit and Saad on the left side of the sixth group, with defensemen Ryan Stanton at center and Sheldon Brookbank on the right wing. Ben Smith skated in Saad's top-line spot, and Andrew Shaw shifted from center of the third line to Stalberg's spot on the right wing.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville clearly was agitated with his team's level of play after the series-clinching win against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, saying the Blackhawks need to "get angry" in response to a question about the experience some of the younger players on the team gained. Quenneville didn't say specifically that the lines in practice Saturday were meant to be a message, but it was implied, and Saad figured it out quickly.

"I was a little surprised [to see the white jersey] coming to the rink today, but you've just got to push yourself and get better," he said. "Even without [Quenneville] saying anything, I know my play was not my best. I've got to get better each game, each round, and that's what I'm looking to do."

That's what Quenneville is looking for too.

"I think you keep it simple," he said, referring to Saad and Stalberg. "Advance the puck and don't always feel like you've got to make a play. Use your speed. Put it in areas where it might be for races and try to keep the puck and maybe just have some offensive-zone shifts."

After totaling 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 regular-season games, Saad had one assist against the Wild, in Game 5. The Blackhawks' top line of Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa largely was shut down and nearly shutout through the first four games until showing signs of life in Game 5.

Saad, asked if his personal struggles were more frustrating or motivating, quickly chose the latter option.

"I think motivated, for sure," he said. "Not playing my best is something you can use as motivation. This is not a time to get frustrated, especially still playing hockey and still winning."

Saad and Stalberg were two cogs of the machine Quenneville wasn't entirely pleased with, saying he wasn't ready to "do cartwheels" about the last two games against Minnesota, despite Chicago winning both. The players have gotten the message loud and clear: It's time to pick up the pace.

"It's not how we were pushed [by the Wild], it's how we pushed ourselves," Shaw said. "I don't think as a team we pushed each other enough and I think that's something we need to work on before going to the next round."

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