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Stalberg finds himself a healthy scratch for opener

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Instead of manning the right wing on the third line for the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night at United Center, speedy forward Viktor Stalberg will be in street clothes when the puck is dropped.

Stalberg will be a healthy scratch when the Blackhawks play host to the Detroit Red Wings in the opener of a highly anticipated Western Conference Semifinal series between the Original Six rivals (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

He's not injured, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville termed it a coach's decision when asked if there was something other than Stalberg's play factoring into the somewhat curious call to scratch their fastest skater against a fast-paced team like Detroit.

"He's out tonight," Quenneville said. "Coach's decision. I had a conversation with him, so he knows how it stands and [what] the situation is, but we'll leave it at that."

Stalberg played 47 games for Chicago in the regular season, scoring nine goals and adding 14 assists with a plus-16 rating. In the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Minnesota Wild, he played all five games and finished with one assist -- the one assist was the primary helper on linemate Bryan Bickell's game-winning overtime goal in Game 1.

Shortly after Quenneville met with reporters Wednesday, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune tweeted that a source informed him Stalberg questioning his role on the team to a coach was the reason for the demotion.

The issue might be power-play minutes. Stalberg averaged 11 seconds of time on the Blackhawks' power play against the Wild after averaging more than two minutes a game on the man-advantage in 47 games of the regular season.

Quenneville didn't rule out Stalberg for a return in the series against the Red Wings.

"Things change in our business quickly, whether it's health or decisions based on play," Quenneville said. "So we'll visit it as we go along."

Stalberg, who will become an unrestricted free agent in July, wasn't available when reporters had access to the Blackhawks locker room following their morning skate because he was still on the ice going through post-skate work required of healthy scratches. He spoke with the media after Tuesday's practice and was clearly upset about being bumped from the top four forward lines since the first practice following the first-round series win.

"I think I've had some of my best games this year against [the Red Wings]," Stalberg said. "For sure, that fits my style. I think that's better than me sitting back. We've got to be able to play against everybody, but if I get to play [in this series], I'm excited to play them. I think it's a good matchup for me and I think we're ready for this series. We've prepared well. We should be ready to go."

It might be a little strange for the Blackhawks who do play not to have Stalberg out there with them, but they trust Quenneville's coaching decisions.

"It's not an easy thing," Toews said. "Guys like [Stalberg], you understand their frustration. He's worked very hard for this team. There's some decisions by the coaching staff that, as a team, you just go out there and play. The guys that get the chance, they go out there and do the job. The guys that have to sit and watch, that's a tough sacrifice for those guys to make, but it doesn't mean we're not conscious of what those guys are doing for this team."

Toews said, "It's never an easy thing, but obviously that's what makes us a good team. We've got some good players that may not be able to play every night."

Veteran center Michal Handzus will play for Chicago after missing two straight practices as maintenance days, and center Dave Bolland will play his first game of these Stanley Cup Playoffs centering the Blackhawks third line -- shifting Andrew Shaw from center to Stalberg's spot on the right wing.

Bolland and backup goalie Ray Emery missed the entire first round each with a lower-body injury. Emery will dress and back up starter Corey Crawford, who was part of his first postseason series win by starting all five games against Minnesota.

Here is how the Blackhawks likely will line up Wednesday night against the Red Wings:

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Patrick SharpMichal HandzusPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellDave BollandAndrew Shaw

Daniel CarcilloMarcus KrugerMichael Frolik

Duncan KeithNiklas Hjalmarsson

Nick LeddyBrent Seabrook

Johnny OduyaMichal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Ray Emery

Scratched: Viktor Stalberg, Jamal Mayers, Sheldon Brookbank, Ben Smith, Ryan Stanton

Injured: None

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