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Chicago Blackhawks: Versteeg and Timonen return in Game 4 lineup

By Matt Barbato
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Joel Quenneville made a couple of tweaks to his lineup between his team’s Game 3 loss and Wednesday night’s Game 4. One was expected and the other was a bit more surprising.

The unsurprising move was the insertion of Kris Versteeg onto the second line instead of the struggling Bryan Bickell. In what might come as a shock, Kimmo Timonen told reporters after Chicago’s morning skate that he will be back in the lineup for Kyle Cumiskey.

Starting with the blue line, this will be Timonen’s first action since Game 5 of the Western Conference final. The 40-year-old veteran defenseman has been a liability all postseason and was particularly exposed against Anaheim, when he was a -3 in five games against the Ducks. Timonen has not registered a point in the postseason.

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Timonen missed most of the season with blood clots and has struggled to regain form since GM Stan Bowman acquired him from Philadelphia at the end of February. It appears Quenneville would rather take a chance on a veteran than the young-blooded Cumiskey, who was in front of Cedric Paquette before he tapped in Victor Hedman’s centering pass on Tampa’s game-winning goal in Game 3.

Cumiskey was thrown into the postseason for Game 2 of the conference final and was generally shaky. The seventh-round pick has not recorded a point and is a -3 in nine postseason games.

Versteeg played in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final in relief of Bickell, who was suffering from vertigo. Versteeg did not get on the score sheet, but he was mostly mistake free and created some chances while playing with the second and fourth lines.

Bickell replaced Versteeg in the lineup for Game 3, but continued his lackluster postseason. The 223-pound forward did not record a shot in just under 10 minutes of ice time and took a really poor roughing penalty in the second period and saw his ice time go down afterward. Bickell, who has scored 16 goals in Chicago’s last two postseason runs, has yet to score a goal and has only five points in 18 postseason contests this year.

Versteeg may be a better fit for this fast-paced series than Bickell and Quenneville will attempt to reignite the PBK line that was quite productive during the early stretch of the season. Versteeg recorded 15 of his 34 points during nine games spanning from Nov. 16 to Dec. 5. Versteeg spent most of that time playing with Richards and Kane on a line that was arguably Chicago’s most effective group during a brief portion of the regular season.

Versteeg’s ice time during the postseason has been sporadic. He played in each of the first six games of the playoffs against the Nashville Predators, then was benched for the entire Minnesota series. He made a brief stint in Game 3 of the Western Conference final when Quenneville made one of his most questionable decisions of the season by inserting Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom into the lineup for Teuvo Teravainen and Antonie Vermette.

It’s uncertain how long of a leash Versteeg will have the rest of the way. Quenneville would probably prefer to stop swapping bodies to get as much continuity on the ice as possible, but neither Versteeg nor Bickell have been consistent enough to trust for more than a game or two.

Quenneville is doing his best to create the most optimal lineup from top-to-bottom and will need to strike gold once again as the Hawks try to dig out of a 2-1 series deficit.

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