By Shane Nicholson
The Blackhawks still hold the upper hand heading into tonight’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals despite limited production from their top forwards.
And Coach Joel Quenneville looks set to shake up his top two lines from the opening puck drop tonight in an effort to get big guns Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa more involved.
Bryan Bickell, who only played four-and-a-half minutes of the Game 7 Western Conference Finals win, is set to return from what he told reporters was a bout with vertigo.
“Before, I wasn’t near 100 percent and I didn’t want to risk the team in different situations,” Bickell said this morning. “Now, I feel good and ready to go.”
Bickell reportedly featured with second-line center Brad Richards and Kane during Monday morning’s skate, a sign that Quenneville is set to abandon the Toews-Kane-Saad partnership that helped see the Hawks through the final two games over the Anaheim Ducks and was broken up during Saturday’s Game 2.
So far in two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning none of Chicago’s top-six forwards has registered a goal. While a top-to-bottom team defensive effort was enough to see the Hawks through a 2-1 opening win, Tampa Bay was able to undo Chicago’s defense for four goals in Saturday’s Game 2, leveling the series at a game apiece.
But if it goes the full seven Chicago will benefit from the split of the opening pair, gaining home ice advantage over the final five games of the series.
And seeing those marquee names find their way back on the score sheet tonight, either by the goal or the assist, will be a positive move in their quest to clinch a third Stanley Cup in six seasons.
“As an offensive guy, you want to be helping produce, especially at this time of the year,” Kane said Sunday.
“But we said all along with our team, we don’t really care where the goals come from as long as they’re coming from our team.”
Saturday marked the only the second time in 112 playoff games that Kane failed to record a single shot on goal, a point made all the more problematic by the Lightning’s late-game goaltending issues.
“I’m not going to go into (Game 3) saying, ‘I need to get a shot here or there,'” said Kane. “I just go out and try to make the right play and worry about the results from there.”
Former IceHog van Riemsdyk set for first Stanley Cup appearance
The Hawks backline is set to get a boost for tonight too, with defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk set to take part in his first game of this year’s playoffs.
The former IceHog played in just 18 games for the Blackhawks this season, battling injuries to his left knee and right wrist. He last played for Chicago on November 16.
“I’ve definitely come a long, long way since I first got called up,” he told reporters Monday morning.
“Just being back out there on the ice, going through everything, it’s really helped a lot.”
Van Riemsdyk rejoined the team on May 22 following surgery to repair his wrist, and he says the build up in practice to tonight’s Game 3 has paid off: “I feel way better than I did when I first got here after the wrist injury.”
The Hawks will look to capitalize on playing in their familiar United Center surroundings tonight. While Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper rarely uses the final switch afforded to home teams to dictate match ups, Quenneville is known for being a master of the late change to put his top checking line forwards on the ice to counter opposing teams’ top lines.
Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos says those match ups can make all the difference and allows the depth of a team’s lines to shine, such was the case with the Hawks in Game 1.
“I think both teams have very skilled players that the other team is paying close attention to,” he said. “That’s when you get into secondary scoring. You saw it in Game 1 from them; you saw it in Game 2 for us. That might be a trend going forward.”
But the Blackhawks hope that isn’t the case, even if it means their top players are settling for assists instead of lighting the lamp.
“Certain games, your top guys…look like they’re shut down,” Quenneville said Monday. “I still think they consume a lot of the other team’s priorities.”
The Hawks will need their top six to do just that throughout the rest of the series to claim the Cup yet again.
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Net.