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Stalberg taking demotion in stride

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO – Friday, the Chicago Blackhawks hit the ice for a practice during their Western Conference Semifinals series against the Detroit Red Wings. And forward Viktor Stalberg again worked outside the top four forward lines.

After playing 47 games in the regular season and all five games of Chicago’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series at right wing on the third line, Stalberg was bumped from the regular playing group prior to the start of the semifinals.

Stalberg was scratched for Game 1 against the Red Wings in what Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville termed a coach’s decision, and his playing status for Game 2 on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) remains up in the air.

Based on where Stalberg skated Friday, he's likely out again, with the third line consisting of Bryan Bickell on the left, Dave Bolland at center and Andrew Shaw at right wing.

The storyline has become a hot topic for Blackhawks fans and Chicago media. Stalberg, who has discussed the situation with Quenneville face-to-face, said he’s biding his time hoping to get another chance in the postseason.

“I felt pretty good in the first series,” he said. “The puck maybe didn’t bounce my way there in the end, but I think we were a pretty effective line.”

Stalberg played all five games of the first round against the Minnesota Wild at right wing next to Shaw at center and opposite Bickell. He collected a single assist in the five games, the primary assist on Bickell’s overtime game-winner in Game 1.

“I think [Quenneville] wasn’t happy with the team performance,” Stalberg said. “He chose to take me out of the lineup and that’s how it is. I’ll live with that. It’s frustrating. I’ll do anything I can to support the guys and to be back in the lineup as soon as I get the chance and try to be effective once I get back in there.”

Prior to Wednesday's Game 1 against Detroit, it was reported by the Chicago Tribune that Stalberg’s ineffectiveness on the power play -- plus his questioning of his coaches about his diminished role on that unit against the Wild -- was the main factor in his demotion.

Quenneville categorically denied the assertion Stalberg voicing his displeasure was behind his decision in a press conference on Thursday, but didn’t deny that production on the ice was a factor.

Stalberg spent 103:06 on the power play this season, third highest on the Blackhawks, and finished with no goals and two assists. According to the website, Stalberg spent 81 percent of that time on the power-play unit alongside Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

Stalberg has one playoff goal in 18 games, which he scored in a first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. He hasn’t potted a power-play goal in 243 career regular-season games, something he’s hoping to change the next time he gets on the ice.

When that will be is up to Chicago's coach, with whom Stalberg discussed his playing time.

“It was short, standard I think,” Stalberg said of the talk with Quenneville. “Just be more intense out there, play harder. Most of the guys hear that when they’re not playing, nothing too different. He wants me to produce more and be more effective out there, so hopefully when I get back I’ll try and make a difference.”

Stalberg, one of the NHL’s fastest skaters, is a pending unrestricted free agent. Does he think this situation will affect whether the Blackhawks offer to extend his stay?

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “This is part of it. Whether I’m here or not next year we’ll see what happens. That’s something we’ll take at the end of the year, but it’s something I’m not real concerned about at this point. We’ll figure that one out after we hopefully hoist the Cup here.”

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