Blackhawks

Hoge On The Hawks: Third Line Playing With Something To Prove

Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

JOHNNY’S ICE HOUSE (CBS) Tuesday night’s overtime game-winner for the Blackhawks was the epitome of perfect execution between teammates.

It also encapsulated the dynamic depth the Hawks have showed off all season.

It started with a great check by Andrew Shaw deep in the defensive zone to gain possession. That was followed by one of the better passes you’ll see during the entirety of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Johnny Oduya drew Ryan Suter in slightly and then bounced the puck high off the glass so it was just out of the reach of the defenseman’s glove. The puck landed perfectly in stride with Viktor Stalberg, who dragged his skate just enough to open an easy passing lane to Bryan Bickell, who finished with a nice move by going backhand five-hole on Josh Harding.

In the midst of an overall slow, gritty contest, Game 1 ultimately went to the Blackhawks because their third line beat the Wild’s top defensive line in overtime.

“It’s big for me to get that goal,” Bickell said. “To give the team the jump, the start that we needed. Hopefully we carry that on.”

It was big for the entire line.

Bickell, Stalberg and Shaw are often overlooked behind the rest of the stars on the team, but quietly, they’ve been together for most of the year, playing with consistency.

“I think that line, whether they’ve been productive, whether they’ve had offensive zone time, they’re a threat to score off the rush, but they seem to have lots of chemistry,” Quenneville said Thursday. “Their offensive zone time this year was very high. But I think they’ve all improved their defensive game and I think that’s why they’re in the offensive zone more.”

There really couldn’t be a better example of that than Tuesday’s game-winner. Shaw’s check started the whole play — defense to offense, with a ridiculous pass by Oduya in the middle.

All three forwards on the third line are playing with something to prove. Shaw is still learning in his first full season with the Blackhawks, Stalberg constantly hears his name in trade talks and Bickell is still trying to get out of the fans’ doghouse after a difficult 2011-12 campaign.

To his credit, Bickell had 23 points this year in 48 regular season games after just 24 last year in 71 games.

The game plan from opponents is going to be similar in this year’s playoffs. Teams are going to try to get the Blackhawks away from their finesse game by being physical. Surprisingly, despite a very uninspiring start Tuesday, the Hawks countered by out-hitting the Wild. But after the game, Quenneville made it clear that the Blackhawks have to get into the slot more against the Wild and get pucks on net.

Sounds like the job of a third line.

“It’s going to be tough, but it’s the playoffs and you got to battle through those dirty areas,” Stalberg said. “A lot of the games are going to come down to a gritty goal or a good bounce in front of there so you have to ready for anything around the net.”

Motivation won’t be an issue for these guys. Stalberg and Shaw are both looking for their first Stanley Cup, while Bickell got to hold it over his head three years ago but did not have his name etched into it because he didn’t play in enough games.

If they keep making plays like they did in overtime Tuesday, that won’t be a problem this time around.

adam hoge 2012 small1 Hoge On The Hawks: Third Line Playing With Something To Prove

Adam Hoge

Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.