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.

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

We're going to be a little honest. The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs could've been better.

It didn't help that the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks swept their series', wiping out those West Coast games for the last week and a half. There were also only five overtime games, four of which came in the Washington-Columbus series, compared to 18 in the first round last season.

But having said all that, we might be in for one of the most entertaining second rounds in recent memory.

Before we get to that, here are five takeaways from Round 1:

1. Artemi Panarin is a playoff performer.

We're not going to rehash whether the Blackhawks made a mistake in trading away one of the best offensive players in the league.

Instead, let's talk about how the Bread Man proved to skeptics that he's a superstar in his own right, yes, even without Patrick Kane.

It was fair to wonder whether Panarin's production would be on par with what it was in his first two seasons in Chicago, because it was also fair to do the same for Kane, who put up his best point totals in each of those two seasons as well playing alongside Panarin — 106 points in 2015-16 and 89 in 2016-17, respectively.

But the idea that Kane made Panarin was always a lazy narrative, because they both benefited from each other. In fact, Panarin set a Blue Jackets record by registering a 82 points in a single season without Kane, proving he could thrive in a role where he was "The Guy."

Panarin finished the regular season with five straight multi-point games, and opened the playoffs with seven points (two goals, five assists) in three games, including the overtime winner in Game 1. He went pointless in the final three games, but he admitted after the Blue Jackets were eliminated that a knee injury sustained early in Game 5 played a role in his effectiveness — or lack thereof — over the final two contests. That's not an excuse, just a fact.

He now has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 17 postseason games for his career, which is nearly a point-per-game average. Panarin is a big-game player, and anybody that thinks otherwise is reading too much into the Blackhawks' first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators last season, where every single member struggled.

2. Do the Penguins have what it takes to three-peat?

The Penguins became the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Now they can become the first to make it three in a row, and there's a realistic chance of that happening after they became the sixth team in NHL history to win nine straight playoff series following their first-round win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

There's one major caveat, as there is to almost anything: Can they stay healthy?

Evgeni Malkin will miss Game 1 against the Washington Capitals with an apparent leg injury, and Carl Hagelin has already been ruled out for the first two games.

That's a huge factor in all this, because the Penguins still have three more rounds to go if they want to make history and would need to do it with their second-best player clearly not at 100 percent and probably won't be for the rest of the playoffs.

If there's a year the Capitals can finally slay the dragon having lost nine of their past 10 playoff series against Pittsburgh, it's this one. They've got home-ice advantage, they're healthy, playing well in all phases and don't have the expectations that have seemed to weigh on their minds in the past.

3. Vegas, baby.

Has there been a more fun bandwagon to be a part of than the Golden Knights' during their inaugural season? They racked up 109 points, won the Pacific Division and swept the Los Angeles Kings when many perceived that to be a coin flip.

Marc-Andre Fleury was ridiculous, recording a 0.65 goals against average, .977 save percentage and two shutouts in four games against the Kings. Vegas as a team allowed only three goals and scored seven, with each of those seven goals coming from a different player.

It's been an incredible story.

The next stop will be against the San Jose Sharks, which certainly won't be a cakewalk. Expect that to be an evenly-matched series between two teams that aren't satisfied with how far they've come already, especially the Golden Knights. They want to make history by winning a Stanley Cup in Year 1 of existence.

Would it surprise anyone at this point?

4. Boston-Toronto lives up to the hype.

The script was set up perfectly.

Five years after the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit but collapsed in Game 7 at TD Garden by squandering a three-goal lead in the third period, the opportunity to rewrite history was right in front of them.

The Maple Leafs again fell behind 3-1, rallied back to win two straight, had three separate one-goal leads in Game 7 at TD Garden but couldn't seal the deal. It also could've served as a healing moment for the city of Toronto, which was hit with tragedy when a van drove onto a sidewalk and killed 10 people and injured 15 others, the same way Boston came together following the marathon bombings in 2013.

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, destiny did not prevail and they're still seeking a first-round series win in the salary cap era.

It was as riveting a Game 7 as you'll see, and the hockey gods rewarded fans after a dull first round. But...

5. Get ready for Round 2.

Nashville vs. Winnipeg. Vegas vs. San Jose. Tampa Bay vs. Boston. Washington vs. Pittsburgh.

Close your eyes and pick a series and that could be the most entertaining of the second round. Each of them have the potential to be great.

It's the first time in NHL history the final eight teams standings compiled at least 100 points in the regular season, meaning it truly is the best of the best that's left. So enjoy it.

And good luck with your predictions, because going 0-for-4 looks more likely than 4-for-4.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Attempting to rebuild Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish joins Pat Boyle to answer your mailbag questions. Among the questions they tackle: What was your favorite moment from the Blackhawks’ past season and were you surprised that Joel Quenneville didn’t make any changes to his coaching staff? 

They also discuss re-signing Vinnie Hinostroza, backup goalie options for Corey Crawford and who do they like in the Jets-Predators second-round series?

Plus, Burish looks at the Penguins roster and sees some similarities to the Blackhawks’ situation and attempts to rebuild a Stanley Cup contender.

Listen to the full podcast right here: