Chicago Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: For fourth line, it's always a fight

Hawk Talk: For fourth line, it's always a fight

Monday, May 31, 2010
12:21 AM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO From coast to coast, Tomas Kopeckys jump from healthy scratch to arguably the First Star of the opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals was billed as the ultimate tale of redemption.

Thats not far off, to be sure. But all through this second season, the Chicago Blackhawks rotating corps of fourth-liners has been making key contributions, and Kopeckys gorgeous assist and game-winning goal on Saturday night may have been the very best.

In the quarters, Bryan Bickell was ticketed from the AHL Rockford IceHogs almost immediately onto the first line, alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Then, when the Blackhawks were lacking punch and in jeopardy of a first-round upset, Adam Burish stepped in to add fire and feist to the proceedings. Ben Eager formed a Sunshine Boys pair with Burish for awhile, chiding the opposition together from the bench and dropping more than one stereophonic snow shower on opposing goalies. Troy Brouwer, who had fallen out the lineup completely against the Nashville Predators, made a stirring return to spur the Blackhawks against the Vancouver Canucksand oh, you might also recall his two goals on Saturday vs. the Flyers. And Colin Fraser, who has seen action in just three playoff games in 2010, was a key cog in the fourth line when that grouping strung together a streak of high-scoring games that lifted the Blackhawks out of their late-season malaise.

Theres no doubt that all six of the teams final forwards are itching to play. But the waiting game can be agonizing.

You have to stay patient, said Kopecky, last nights hero. You dont want to worry about whether youre playing. Thats dangerous. You just have to do what it takes to keep playing once youre in.

Color Coach Q impressed, and unlikely to be sitting Kopy for the rest of the Finals.

Remarkable comeback, Quenneville said. Great play, good patience on the winning goal nice return to the lineup.

Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg has sat his share of times in his young career, though never this season. But a question about healthy scratches immediately raises his ire.

Sometimes guys get a little ticked off and want to get out there, Versteeg said. We all want to be out there, but theres only so much room. You just have to do your best and make the most of your opportunities.

It sounds as if thats just what Kopecky did. If and when the injured Andrew Laddwho Kopy replaced on the third line on Saturday and in fact was in the starting lineup, along with Dave Bolland and Versteegreturns, its a safe bet that Quenneville will find room for the gangly grinder.

That line was very dangerous, Quenneville said of the six-point, plus-seven effort from the three skaters. Very effective. Bolly and Steeger really complimented Kopy. That line throughout the playoffs with Laddy and now Kopy knows how to play defensively and their production offensively seems to be timely as far as their goals.

None came timelier than Kopeckys, who upon his return got the ultimate validation of a game-winning goal to send 22,132 UC crazies home happy. You might think it was simple absence from scoring that forced Kopys odd bongo-on-the-boards goal celebration, but it wasnt so.

I got stuck in the ice after scoring, Kopecky said. I was banging the glass and a woman was slapping it, too. So I just kept banging back.

Kopecky has banged his way back into the lineup, in a big way. And if he or another fourth-liner falters, there are three eager forwards now sitting who will be angling for the call.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Brandon Saad back in veteran-like form for Blackhawks

saad-924.jpg
USA TODAY

Brandon Saad back in veteran-like form for Blackhawks

Brandon Saad seems like more of an NHL veteran than he is. From his size to his composed style of play to what he’s already accomplished at this level, Saad gives off that vibe that he’s been around much longer than he actually has. Even his teammates forget that.

“You think he may be 27, 28 years old. He’s only 24 years old. He’s still a young kid,” Patrick Kane said. “Guys like [Ryan] Hartman and [Vinnie] Hinostroza are only 23 so he’s not much older than them, even though he might seem it. He’s got a great future.”

Saad’s future is once again being played out in Chicago and he couldn’t feel better about returning. Back in a familiar city and a familiar spot on the ice – alongside Jonathan Toews – Saad is ready to reignite the top line with Toews and Richard Panik. Outside of some scrimmages the line hasn’t gotten much of a chance to see where things are yet – their first preseason game was against Columbus on Saturday. But Saad said things are coming together.

“It was still [Toews’] first game back and my first time with him but we’re pretty familiar with each other. I don’t think it’ll take long at all,” he said following the team’s first practice at Notre Dame on Sunday. “Any time you come from a five-month summer into the season your timing’s always a little off, and then with a new player going back to a familiar player, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Toews recognized Saad’s desire to be a big part of this team when the left wing was a rookie. That drive hasn’t diminished.

“His rookie year I kept saying you could see that intangible quality in him, that he wanted to get better every single night,” Toews said. “You see players with raw, physical talent and ability but don’t take it upon themselves to be one of the guys every single night. Saader was showing that right away and you could tell he was just going to get better and better.”

The powerful part of Saad’s game the Blackhawks missed the most was evident in his first preseason contest back with him, against Detroit on Thursday. The Red Wings didn’t have their top squad but Saad was nevertheless dominant, recording a hat trick in which all three goals were within a few feet of the net. The top line has had that element here and there the past two seasons but no doubt felt Saad’s absence.

“He’s a high-end player or potential player that should develop into a regular scorer and who knows what he could do,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think there’s room where maybe he could go to a better level as far as production goes, because he gets so many looks around the net with his quickness and the way he protects the puck and the way he can shoot it.”

Saad reaching another level. Again, you see what he’s done so far and you forget that he’s only 24. He still has a lot of time – and potential – ahead of him.

“He’s stepping in here knowing he’ll be one of those guys heavily keyed upon for us,” Toews said. “And he’s ready for that and excited for it.”

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”