Blackhawks

Fourth line providing plenty for Blackhawks

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Fourth line providing plenty for Blackhawks

For most of the regular season, the Blackhawks had a decent fourth-line presence.

The defense was there, as it usually is with a line centered by Marcus Kruger. But the trio wasn’t spending much time in the opponent’s zone or creating many scoring threats.

Three games into the playoffs, however, that’s all changed. Now the fourth line is back to being a line that can play ample minutes, can keep defending well and can add a goal here or there.

Andrew Desjardins, Kruger and Andrew Shaw have made a successful fourth-line combo, one that’s contributed on both sides of the puck. Desjardins scored a goal in his first postseason game with the Blackhawks (Game 3 vs. Nashville). Kruger scored in Game 1 vs. the Minnesota Wild while Shaw has three assists in eight playoff games.

[MORE: Blackhawks need to keep intensity at Xcel Energy Center]

No, they’re not putting up brilliant scoring numbers; they’re not there for that. But any contributions on that side, coupled with the defense on the other, is certainly gravy.

“I think they work well with each other in the puck area,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re relentlessly pursuing pucks and they rotate well off one another. Defensively, there’s awareness. Offensively, all three can make in-tight plays. We usually use them in a defensive role but when they can get that offensive-zone time that’s a bonus.”

Sometimes the trade-deadline move that gets the least fanfare can make you a four-line team again. When the Blackhawks acquired Desjardins from San Jose on March 2, it was met with little fanfare. Most of the attention was on Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette, who the Blackhawks had traded for the previous weekend. When Quenneville altered the lineup entering Game 3 vs. Nashville — Vermette went to the third line and Desjardins joined Kruger and Shaw on the fourth — everything clicked. Once again the fourth line was bringing balance and taking some of the pressure off the top three lines.

“You have to spread the workload,” Desjardins said. “It seems like that’s the case. It’s great to have that feeling, to feel like you’re trusted and be in situations. Again, you can’t take it for granted. You have to do the job out there.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoff run, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks’ fourth line rarely changed through the first half of last season. At the time, Kruger, Ben Smith — who went to San Jose in the Desjardins trade — and current Flames forward Brandon Bollig brought stability to that fourth line. Shaw, who is back at the wing on this line, said the current trio is working just as well.

“I just think we have the chemistry,” Shaw said. “We all have the same mindset: get pucks deep, make their D turn and cycle the puck. [Kruger and Desjardins] both have good skill, too. They make plays and support you as well.”

The Blackhawks are rolling four lines again because their fourth line is bringing a solid game on both sides of the puck. Good timing.

“To go deep in the playoffs you need all four lines, all six [defensemen] and you need everyone to contribute any way they can,” Kruger said. “Playing with Andrew and Andrew has been a lot of fun for me. [They’re] two great players who love to play aggressive and forecheck and hold onto the puck down low. That helps me out a lot, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

NHL to potentially discuss emergency goalie rules at general managers meetings

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USA Today

NHL to potentially discuss emergency goalie rules at general managers meetings

The NHL general managers meetings are set to begin next week and one of the topics on the docket to be discussed may be emergency backup goalie (EBUG) procedures. The recent interest in reevaluating EBUG rules come after 42-year-old David Ayres suited up to play for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 6-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs this past weekend.

The issue of EBUGs comes up so rarely that NHL GMs don’t typically give it much thought. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke about EBUGs this Tuesday during the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets game.

“It's something we've given some consideration to over the years. As recently as last year, we discussed [it] with the general managers. It happens very, very rarely, but when it happens, it obviously raises everybody's attention to the issue and whether there are fixes that need to be made to that particular issue,” he explained. “We have to work with the [NHL] Players' Association. Who's a player? Who's not a player? What qualifies all of that? But obviously we want what's best for the game, and we want to make sure people aren't putting themselves in danger by playing goal in a National Hockey League game. ... So that's obviously something we have to continue to work through."

Currently, the 2019-20 NHL official rules state, “if both listed goalkeepers are incapacitated, that team shall be entitled to dress and play any available goalkeeper who is eligible."

Ayres drives the Zamboni at the Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto and frequently practices with the Leafs. Ayres stepped in the net after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured. He made eight saves and is the oldest goalie in NHL history to make his regular season debut.

The Blackhawks had their own instance of needing an EBUG in 2018 against the Winnipeg Jets. Scott Foster, a then-36-year-old accountant stepped in the net at the United Center after Corey Crawford and Collin Delia were sidelined by injury. Foster saved all seven shots on goal, making him the first EBUG to make a save and a hometown hero in Chicago. 

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How Blackhawks are trying to stay upbeat despite roster subtractions

How Blackhawks are trying to stay upbeat despite roster subtractions

ST. LOUIS — The NHL trade deadline is a unique time of year for fans because it serves as a chance to get a read on what the management group feels about your respective team's current state.

There are the buyers who feel they're good enough to make a deep postseason run, the sellers who admit they're looking more towards the future and the ones who stand pat because they're somewhere in between. But to what degree is telling as well.

For example, the Columbus Blue Jackets went for it all last season by acquiring Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and two other players in exchange for a roster player, three prospects and seven draft picks that included a pair of first- and second-rounders, fully knowing all four players could walk away for nothing in the summer. And they did.

Last season, the Blackhawks stood pat. They didn’t have many assets to sell, but they were knocking on the door of a playoff spot and decided to let it ride.

This season was a different story.

Erik Gustafsson and Robin Lehner were traded in separate deals for asset management purposes, and intentionally or not, the message was sent that the Blackhawks weren't good enough to keep the group together for a legitimate playoff push. Despite how deflating the roster subtractions could make them feel, the Blackhawks are trying to maintain a positive attitude for the remainder of the season.

"No letdown, no taking any steps back," Jonathan Toews said before Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Blues. "Stay on your routine, stay on your commitment, keeping that upbeat feel in the locker room and going out there having fun, working hard and putting your best foot forward [for] a win and getting two points every night, so that's all we can do."  

Head coach Jeremy Colliton commended his group for how they reacted to the outside distractions leading up to the trade deadline. He expects them to respond after it.

"It's our job to compete at the highest level," Colliton said. "I give the guys credit, those two games before the deadline we responded really well to the uncertainty. Pulling a player at the last second and they played hard, and that's what we expect going forward. The team-first priorities at all times and sticking together and playing to the end no matter what. If we do that, we'll get our results and let's see what happens."

It would take a miraculous run for the Blackhawks to make the playoffs at this point after falling below .500 based on points percentage following Tuesday's loss to the Blues. But they're not waving the white flag just yet, even though it would psychologically be easy to pack it in.

"You always want to be in the hunt and just fighting for a playoff spot," Patrick Kane said. "Obviously we'd have to go on a pretty big run to make the playoffs this year, but just take it a game at a time here. We've been playing pretty well as a team to be honest with you. I know the results haven't been there, but we've been playing pretty good, we've been playing some tough teams. I think if we continue on this turn we're probably going to get better results down the stretch."  

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