The time on ice listed on the Chicago Blackhawks’ Game 5 score sheet had more balance to it; the numbers not so heavy for the top players, light for the role ones.
It was fitting since, for the first time this series, the Blackhawks truly had balance in their four lines.
The Blackhawks rolled their lines fairly well on Sunday night, a change from the three-line rotation they’ve gone with either to match up with the Minnesota Wild, or to adjust to how the game was playing out. It was a welcome sight for the Blackhawks, who are used to rolling four on a regular basis these past few seasons.
“It’s always good to use four lines as much as possible to give those top lines an extra breather,” said Bryan Bickell, who formed a solid fourth (or was it third?) line with Peter Regin and Kris Versteeg. “I thought me Steegs and Reegs had some good chemistry going into the playoffs. I’m looking forward to it if I’m playing with them again. We had some good chances in the offensive swings to get the momentum in their hand and we’re just looking forward to tomorrow.”
The lowest TOI was Joakim Nordstrom with just over nine minutes. Too often in recent games, a player or two would have just four or five minutes of ice time, six or seven minutes at most. Coach Joel Quenneville said it didn’t hurt that there was little special-teams play in Game 5.
“The game was all 5-on-5 so it worked out good,” he said. “There (are) a lot of sequences where there weren’t many whistles, so you get the four-line rotations without the time outs. It plays that strength of having four lines capable of playing. I think we got some nice consistency in our lines as well through that stretch.”
[RELATED: Andrew Shaw to miss Game 6]
Sure, having little special-teams play helped. Still, it was also about finding combinations that could be reliable on both sides of the puck. It’s been tougher this series with the loss of Andrew Shaw, who’s been out since sustaining a leg injury in Game 1. His presence is missed in a lot of ways including among the lines, where you could usually pencil him in with that third trio. Sunday marked the first time in the series, perhaps, that the Blackhawks got a little bit of something from all four lines.
Finding that strong rotation isn’t always easy, especially in the playoffs. Some guys may be hurt and some may be slumping. The Blackhawks found some good combinations on Sunday, four good groups to balance out minutes so the top players weren’t so top heavy in minutes. They’ll look to do the same on Tuesday.
“Some guys are going a little better than others and sometimes you ride them a little bit more. You’re playing to win that game, win that shift,” Quenneville said. “(But) it’s always better to have four lines going because that makes you a deeper team, and that’s one of our strengths.”