Kris Versteeg appears to be back in the Chicago lineup tonight and Ilya Bryzgalov will start for Minnesota as the Blackhawks host the Wild in Game 1 of their second-round series on Friday night.
Versteeg was a late, healthy scratch in Game 6 of the Blackhawks’ first-round series against the St. Louis Blues. He’s spent the past few days skating on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Michal Handzus. Versteeg talked earlier this week on how he needs to improve.
“When I’m playing (well) I can be a help to the team,” Versteeg said. “Right now it’s just about getting back to that, finding your way, reaching deep down — gut check time, you know. Hopefully when you get your chance you come through for the guys.”
Regardless, some of the Blackhawks’ fourth liners played minimal minutes in Game 6. Playing most of the second period on the penalty kill didn’t help the Blackhawks in trying to keep their four-line rotation. Coach Joel Quenneville would like to roll all four lines this series but said it will depend on how the games play out.
“We always anticipate playing all four,” he said. “The last game, six penalties, a lot of guys didn’t get on the ice, so we were comfortable using three lines. All year long, whether use three or four, we can always see how that plays out. Sometimes you’re matching lines and they’re using three, and that’s part of the decision process as well.”
Jonathan Toews, who missed Thursday’s practice due to illness, returned this morning and will play tonight.
Meanwhile, Minnesota enters this series much like they did last year’s first-round matchup with the Blackhawks: with goaltending injuries. Darcy Kuemper, who was great last round vs. the Colorado Avalanche, is not even in Chicago right now. Coach Mike Yeo said Kuemper is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Bryzgalov started the Colorado series but was pulled 32 minutes into Game 2. Josh Harding, who has missed much of this season as he continues to fight multiple sclerosis, skated with the Wild on Friday morning. But Yeo downplayed Harding’s chances of playing.
“For me, I’m not considering it right now,” Yeo said. “If it’s an absolute emergency, if it’s a desperate situation we find ourselves in, we’ll be prepared for that. But we’re not getting him on the ice to get him ready to play a game, let’s put it that way.”