Blackhawks Playoff Focus: The Fourth Line

Anyone who has watched the Blackhawks since the Olympics knows to expect one thing: the unexpected. Kim Johnsson has disappeared, Brian Campbell is hurt, Dustin Byfuglien is back on the blue line and the Hawks are hosting Nashville in the first round.

Something else that has become expected, though, is strong play from the Blackhawks’ fourth line.

Colin Fraser, Tomas Kopecky, Ben Eager, Adam Burish and Bryan Bickell have all played strong hockey in the past few weeks, helping the Blackhawks secure the number two seed in the Western Conference. And despite the top three lines being chock-full of scoring studs, the bottom line has been on top of its game.

In just six games in April, Fraser has five goals. To put that number in perspective, Fraser had 12 points the entire rest of the season (and only two goals).

Kopecky has completely changed his stat line since the break as well. Before playing for Slovakia in Vancouver, Kopecky was considered by many (including me) to be a disappointment. He was -6 and had only 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 58 games. However, in 16 games since the break Kopecky has earned an increase of nearly two minutes per game on the ice by scoring six goals and adding three assists while flipping to a +6 (the opposite of his pre-break number).

Burish came back from a torn ACL after the break and has, despite missing games because of depth, contributed well when called upon. Both Burish and Bickell are +1 in April, with Bickell contributing a goal in only two games and Burish pitching in two assists in just three contests.

Perhaps the most intriguing line of the group has come from Eager. In 20 games since the break, Eager has seen an increase of over a minute per game on the ice and has rewarded the coaches with a +5 rating with six points (two goals, four assists) after only posting five goals and assists and being +6 in 40 appearances before the Olympics.

Since coach Joel Quenneville flipped the lines to spark the offense at the beginning of April, the fourth line has been a huge part of the Blackhawks’ success. With Troy Brouwer returning on┬áthe second line with Patrick Kane and Dave Bolland for the first round of the playoffs, the scoring depth for the Hawks will be key to their run at the Stanley Cup.

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