Role players: They’re usually responsible for doing the nitty-gritty work, playing the grinding game. It can be a dirty job, but someone on the team has to do it.
But in the playoffs, those guys become pivotal. For the Chicago Blackhawks last season, their role players, those third- and fourth-line guys, had some big moments and goals. This postseason, those players could be counted on again. Brandon Bollig, part of a fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith that’s been together most of this season, is ready for the opportunity.
“We’re looked upon to provide defensive presence and shut-down role playing against other teams’ top lines. That’s huge for us, especially with the skill we have up front and the fact we have so much (of it),” Bollig said. “Our line, our main focus is playing well defensively and playing well in our end.”
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Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock spoke of it last season during the Blackhawks’ second-round series with them: the top two lines usually cancel each other out and your third- and fourth-line players are key. The Wings’ third line dominated the start of that series, with the Blackhawks’ third and fourth liners emerging as it continued.
Bryan Bickell, who had a great 2013 postseason, some on that third line before getting promoted to the top, said the bottom six can make key contributions.
“It’s full team effort. The first two lines on every team are skilled enough and have enough talent that they cancel out each other. It’s up to the third- and fourth-line guys to step it up and contribute offensively and do the little things that win series,” Bickell said. “Last year, we had so much depth -- from me, (Andrew) Shaw, (Viktor) Stalberg and everyone who contributed to win.”
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While the roster has changed some since last spring, the Blackhawks are still pretty deep. They’ll still be relying on that depth for help and to possibly move up and down the lineup. Ben Smith will start on the fourth line but he moved up to the second several times this season; who knows if that happens during the playoffs. Jeremy Morin was solid down the stretch; he’s on the outside looking in now, but he could be part of the postseason.
For the Blackhawks, everyone has his role. The third- and fourth-line players know theirs could loom large.
“We want to do whatever we can do to help the team win, whether it’s blocking shots, winning face-offs or scoring the odd goal here and there,” Smith said. “It’s about keeping things simple. It’s going to take a team effort to beat a team like St. Louis. We’re just trying to play our game, keep things simple and do what we can to get the team wins.”