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.
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.”
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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.”