A familiar trio took its turns during practice on Thursday, a group that hadn’t been together since the regular season.
They were, however, good together during that regular season. And as the Blackhawks look to the Western Conference Final, they’ll look to start (at least) with those three together again.
Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith were together on the fourth line again as the Blackhawks returned to practice on Thursday. The group was one of the most dependable trios for the Blackhawks this season, a line that rarely changed even while others around them did often.
The linemates were happy with the reunion.
“I’ve sure missed it,” said Bollig, who completed his two-game suspension at the end of the Wild series. “Obviously we played together a good portion of the season and we had a nice roll there where we kind of found our niche together. So the fact that we were out there together today, hopefully it stays that way for the game and that’s what gets us good quality minutes and playing a quality role.”
The three were playing solid minutes, giving the Blackhawks that consistent four-line rotation through most of the regular season. They might as well have been considered the fourth line down the stretch; they were playing that type of minutes and took on that much defensive responsibility.
“That line, for the majority of the season, was a big part of our team success,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It gives you the strength, whether it’s a checking role, dependability in faceoffs and matchups as well. We’ll play out how things evolve in the next round, but they had stretches in the season where they were in the opponents’ end for a big stretch of games and a big stretch of the season with that consistency. They can make a difference.”
The only reason that line broke up was because of Smith’s play; he earned a promotion, and he moved to second-line center for some time including the first round against St. Louis. While the Blackhawks kept winning, they weren’t doing it as much with a four-line rotation. Some guys were playing just five or six minutes a game.
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With Bollig’s return to the lineup and the Blackhawks looking to keep the four-line rotation they finally gained the final two games against Minnesota, it was time to get the band back together. That, and the band works well together.
“We’ve played with each other a lot, we know where each other is going to be and that helps us get pucks out of the zone,” Smith said. “If we keep our games predictable for each other, it helps us be more consistent, more effective.”
The fourth line that sometimes performed better than the third line looks like it’s together again. Bollig, Kruger and Smith gave the Blackhawks solid minutes and defensive responsibility against the opposition. They’ll look to bring that again.
“If the three of us are back together, we’ll give them some good minutes, some quality minutes, play strong and try to be consistent,” Smith said. “It’s just about trying to play hard and get some quality minutes.”