The word became official on Thursday afternoon: Andrew Shaw, who’s missed three weeks with a right-leg injury, will return on Saturday when the Blackhawks face the Kings in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
With a lineup addition, however, comes a subtraction. Who gets pulled from the Blackhawks’ starting lineup? The three most likely candidates who could be nixed are Brandon Bollig, Peter Regin and Kris Versteeg. So who will it be? Coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't say; he did say “we pretty well got our minds made up, but we’ll see at practice tomorrow and go from there.” And yes, we’ll all find out (you’d think) at practice on Friday.
But that’s then. Right now it’s Thursday afternoon, we’re waiting on a flight so let’s play “Who Will Be Pulled,” looking at the reasons why and why not a player may get the hook (in no particular order).
Why he may be taken out: It may be as simplistic as the Blackhawks swapping one guy for another at that third-line center spot – hey, we didn’t say there’d have to be good or logical reasons for this stuff. If there’s another reason, it may be Regin’s faceoff work; he’s struggled there, winning just 13 and losing 31 in four postseason games. Granted, the Blackhawks as a team were terrible vs. the Kings in Game 2, but you’d like a better percentage with Regin.
Why he may stay in: Regin was last week’s Andrew Shaw minus the injury: a player who was out for a while and re-energized and balanced the lineup once he was put into it. Regin has been solid in his games. He sparked the Blackhawks in Game 5 vs. Minnesota, drawing a penalty, which led to a big power-play goal. He was tied up with Ryan Suter in Game 6 as Patrick Kane grabbed a loose puck and scored the game- and series-winner. He’s played wing in the past, including a few games here, and Shaw can go wing/center, too. So the fit would be fine.
Why he may be taken out: Bollig has struggled throughout the postseason. He’s been a healthy scratch, he’s taken some bad penalties and he received a two-game suspension for his hit on the Wild’s Keith Ballard at the end of the Blackhawks’ second-round series. Bollig had the nice redirect on the pass from Johnny Oduya to Ben Smith that led to Smith’s goal in Game 2. On the flip side, he took a bad interference call early in the third that led to a Kings power-play goal that tied the game.
Why he may stay in: Because that Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Smith fourth line is the ONLY fourth line combination that’s actually worked to any degree, be it this regular- or postseason. Hey, that may sound like a dumb reason to keep a guy in a lineup but look at every other fourth-line combination they’ve tried to balance the minutes. They’ve all been forgettable and none has logged much ice time. It may seem like a bizarre reason, but those three have played nine minutes or more since put back together. Don’t think that doesn’t benefit the other lines.
Why he may be taken out: Versteeg, like Bollig, has been scratched a few games this postseason – at least one of those, however, was due to illness. Versteeg has been trying to channel his inner 2010, when he struggled in the first round and then was a solid points producer. That hasn’t happened this postseason, despite his being bounced around the lineup.
Why he may stay in: Versteeg does have familiarity with the Blackhawks core. He did play better toward the end of the second round as part of a stronger third line with Regin and Bryan Bickell, who has since been promoted to the top line again. Versteeg scored a goal in that game and couldn’t have thrown a better pass Brent Seabrook’s way on their 2-on-1 on Wednesday night – only a last-second Jonathan Quick deflection kept it from being 3-0 Blackhawks.
My opinion on who should be taken out? Bollig. I’m going against everything I said about that fourth line, but I think the struggles have outweighed any good that’s come from that line. Perhaps you drop Versteeg onto it and see how that goes.
**In a quick TV spot I said I wouldn’t be surprised if Regin is pulled. Doesn’t mean I’d agree.