Monday, May 31, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
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.