Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Minnesota Wild, forward Andrew Shaw was taken hard into the boards by Clayton Stoner. He did not return for the rest of the game, and was questionable for Game 2. A few hours before the game, he was ruled out and was to be replaced in the lineup by winger Jeremy Morin. Kris Versteeg also returned to the lineup replacing Brandon Bollig. In Game 1, Versteeg was a healthy scratch for Joakim Nordstrom. Nordstrom played in Game 2 as well. With all of the confusion and shifting happening with the Blackhawks bottom two offensive lines have Hawks fans asking what Coach Joel Quenneville is going to do next.
The top two offensive lines have produced very well for the Blackhawks in Games 1 and 2 in this series. The top line of Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa have provided a lot of the offense this series combining for 5 goals and 7 assists. The second line has been fairly effective, but has been kept off of the scoreboard for the most part. Patrick Kane’s heroics in Game 2 are nearly the extent of the offense provided by that line, but they have been very good at keeping possession of the puck in the offensive zone.
Lines 3 and 4, the lines in question, have been a little bit less productive, and have not been nearly as stable and in place as the top 2. Brandon Saad, who has been playing on the 3rd line, scored his first two goals of these playoffs in Game 2. Other than that, the offense of the bottom 2 has not been there for the Hawks. The main reason for Brandon Bollig’s benching, I believe, is that this series against the Wild is not nearly as physical as the first round matchup against the Blues. Bollig thrives in a physical game. Not to mention, with Stoners antics, the Hawks don’t want Bollig to overly retaliate and draw dumb penalties after big hits or dirty plays by the Wild. I agree with this move. In a less physical series, you take out the slower physical players, and replace them with quicker offensive minded players who can put up as many goals as possible.
Joakim Nordstrom is a very quick winger, who moves the puck well, but also seems to be a main target of Wild hits during the first two games. Jeremy Morin stole the hearts of Blackhawks fans when he went on a point streak to end the regular season. Once the playoffs started though, he was out of the lineup. In Game 2, because of the Shaw injury, he was reinserted. He seemed to play well in Game 2, but midway into the 3rd period, when Minnesota scored, he was not seen again until after the Hawks scored the empty-net goal to put them up 4-1 which was the final tally. Kris Versteeg is far from a fan favorite. Since his return to the Hawks mid season, his numbers have been no where near what they were during his first stint with the team. Many fans have called for his being scratched, and in Game 1, their cries were answered. Now, he is back. Being placed on the 4th line with Michal Handzus and Morin.
I like the way that Coach Q handled the lines in Game 2, putting Saad, Marcus Kruger, and Joakim Nordstrom on the 3rd line and the fourth line being as aforementioned. Once Andrew Shaw returns from his injury though, it will be interesting to see who he replaces. Not only that, but will we see Bollig back in the lineup during this series, or will Q continue dressing all offensive minded players? I believe that Shaw will replace Joakim Nordstrom on the 3rd line, and unless Minnesota gets overly physical or even more down right dirty, Bollig will remain scratched.