CHICAGO -- If you can’t beat ‘em, run from ‘em.
It sounds like coach Joel Quenneville is contemplating major line changes as the Chicago Blackhawks return home in a 2-2 deadlock with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals. A critical Game 5 is Sunday night, and Quenneville intimated his goal is to keep Chris Pronger away from Dustin Byfuglien.
“Whether it’s Buff [Byfuglien] against Pronger or whoever’s against Pronger, I think that that’s something we will see if that will be a matchup going forward,” Quenneville said Saturday. “I still think we have some versatility as far as who is going to be against him.”
Translation: it won’t be Buff. After three game-winning goals last series and a personal-best five-game goal streak, Byfuglien has been limited to one assist against the Flyers. Who will occupy Pronger is anyone’s guess because the Hawks are searching for answers.
“We’ll look at some line combinations as we go into [Sunday’s] game,” Quenneville said. “We might make some adjustments as far as who is with who.”
There is irony here that sticks out like a sore thumb. In the conference finals, the Hawks forced Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks to split up his top line. Now the Flyers are doing it to Chicago.
“Sometimes change is healthy,” Patrick Kane said. “You can mix things up a bit and hopefully energize guys and get things going with different players. It worked pretty good last game, so we’ll see what happens.”
Kane is referring to the third period in Game 4 when the Hawks' attack had some bite. Kane and Jonathan Toews were split up for the first time in the playoffs, and it paid off.
“It seemed like they have a little bit more to match up to,” Kane said.
When asked if he and Toews should start Game 5 apart, Kane said, “Yeah, maybe.”
Kane has one goal in the series and gives credit to the Flyers for shutting down the Hawks' attack.
“I think one of the reasons they are playing so good defensively is they have the puck a lot against us and they are making plays,” Kane said. “Sometimes it gets you frustrated and you want the puck even more.”
Line combinations aren’t the only thing the Hawks are addressing. Bad penalties, bad shifts after goals, and bad play in the defensive zone are all legitimate complaints.
“It’s a wake-up call for everyone in here that we have to be a lot better,” Andrew Ladd said. “We’re confident we can get back to the way we were playing, probably a little more like last series where we were skating and battling a lot harder.”
At this time of year battling harder shouldn’t be an issue. Quenneville agreed with Ladd’s assessment.
“I think there is another level to get to, and I think it starts more in the battle areas and having the puck more,” Quenneville said.
“Penalties for sure,” Kane said. “And just making sure we want it. You don’t want to let this opportunity to slip away. We have at most three games left, and we can put something together here that a lot of us can cherish for the rest of our lives.”
It can’t hurt to be reminded of that. When Patrick Sharp was asked if Sunday was the biggest game of his life, he said, “That goes without saying, yeah.”
Yes, it does.
Could Adam Burish be one lineup change Quenneville is contemplating? After playing in the first three games of the series, he sat out Game 4 in favor of Ladd, who was returning from a shoulder injury. The Hawks are 13-2 in the playoffs with Burish in the lineup and just 1-4 without. “It’s tough to measure something like that,” Quenneville said of those numbers with and without Burish. “[Burish] is a big part of the team and a big part of the group. Obviously, you have to make tough decisions.”