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Seabrook's return strengthens Blackhawks lineup

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks like to use their rush game to create scoring chances. On Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, they get back an important piece of their lineup.

After missing three games while suspended for an illegal hit in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round series, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook will return for Game 6 at United Center (3 p.m. ET, CBC, NBC, RDS). Seabrook is one of the best passing defenders on the Blackhawks, particularly on exits from the defensive zone with direct, accurate stretch passes.

He's also got a big shot from the point and isn't afraid to join the rush from time to time. Seabrook scored a goal and had an assist in each of the first two games against the Blues.

"[Seabrook] helps [the rush game], whether it's direct passes or him joining, being a threat," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think direct plays exiting the zone and the neutral zone [has] been tough. Getting odd-man breaks is something we gave up last game that we're not accustomed to, so we've got to make sure that we take care of that end of it. But I just think whether we get the puck indirectly or directly, [creating rush chances] is something that's going to be a challenge for us."

Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 and has a chance to mimic what the Los Angeles Kings did to St. Louis in the 2013 first round, sweeping four straight games after losing the first two. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the Blackhawks can't be allowed the same amount or more scoring chances.

"Even the last game [Game 5] is a microcosm of the series," Hitchcock said of Chicago's 3-2 victory Friday in overtime at Scottrade Center. "The scoring chances at the end of the night are even. That's not good for us. As many as we're getting, we can't give up that many if we expect to beat them, because it means that they're getting scoring chances. And the biggest challenge for us is, at the end of the night, through the series, they have gotten too many scoring chances off the rush for us to win hockey games. So, we've got to eliminate their scoring chances off the rush and drop their total down."

Hitchcock thinks the return of the 6-foot-3, 221 pound defenseman makes the Blackhawks a more complete team with him shifting on the top pairing next to Duncan Keith.

"Him back in allows them definition in their pairs, which has been their strength all year," Hitchcock said. "Their definition in their pairs allows [the second pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya] to play a defined role. They got out of the defined role and they were scrambling because he was missing, but now it allows them to play in defined pairs and that's probably the biggest challenge for us."

Goaltender Corey Crawford will start again for Chicago.

Quenneville said Crawford is "fine" when asked if the goalie is 100 percent. Quenneville was also asked if there might be additional lineup changes forthcoming, other than Seabrook's return, and his "we'll see," response indicated there might be.

Here are the projected lineups:


Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Ben Smith - Patrick Kane

Brandon Saad - Marcus Kruger - Andrew Shaw

Brandon Bollig - Michal Handzus - Kris Versteeg

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Jeremy Morin, Joakim Nordstrom, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Klas Dahlbeck

Injured: Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder surgery)


Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Vladimir Tarasenko

Steve Ott - Patrik Berglund - Derek Roy

Chris Porter - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold - Roman Polak

Ryan Miller

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Adam Cracknell, Ian Cole, Carlo Colaiacovo, Magnus Paajarvi

Injured: Brenden Morrow

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