How the lines shape up is yet to be seen, but it appears Bryan Bickell and Adam Burish will be active for Thursday night’s Game Four in Nashville. Coach Joel Quenneville labeled defenseman Brian Campbell a “game-time decision,” but the fact that he’s skating in pre-game warmups is a strong indication that he’s available.
In Game Three Quenneville shortened his bench by an entire line, including Troy Brouwer (who barely skated seven minutes in the game). It seemed that every time a line changed, the players skating together weren’t sure who they were with on the ice. The passing and the play was sloppy; this could have been a poor effort, and it could have been a symptom of players not being familiar with each other on the ice.
So how does adding Burish, Bickell and (maybe) Campbell to the mix change things?
The lines the Blackhawks skated at Wednesday’s practice appeared to have a central theme: post presence.
Last year, when the Blackhawks advanced to the Conference Finals with almost zero playoff experience on the roster, one of the biggest factors in their success was Dustin Byfuglien’s backside in the face of opposing netminders. This has been noticeably missing through three games against the Predators. Quenneville’s lineup changes might be an effort to get butts in front of Pekka Rinne.
In practice, Bickell was skating with the top line of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. In limited action with the Hawks this year, Bickell has done an effective job posting up in front of the net as a strong, big power forward. Likewise, a second line putting Tomas Kopecky with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa could utilize Kopecky’s strong play in front of the net as well. Andrew Ladd, who has also been good in front of the net this year, was on a third line with Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg. Troy Brouwer, who was fantastic posting up with Toews and Kane earlier in the year, was skating with Burish and John Madden on the fourth line.
The theme appears to be clear: get power forwards to the front of the crease and make Rinne’s life miserable for 60 minutes. Kopecky scored off a rebound in Game Two, and the Blackhawks’ formula for a win should be to do the same on Thursday.