By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) — With the Blackhawks on a three-game winning streak with a chance to close out the St. Louis Blues, you wouldn’t have thought coach Joel Quenneville would make a significant lineup change.
But Quenneville did, and the message was sent to Kris Versteeg.
“It’s tough,” Versteeg said Wednesday after practice. “I’d be lying to you if I told you I don’t want to be out there helping the team.”
Versteeg said he understood why he was benched for the Blackhawks’ 5-1 series-clinching win against the Blues Sunday, but he preferred to keep those reasons in-house. Quenneville, however, told reporters exactly what he wants to see from the winger.
“We’re looking for more speed,” Quenneville said. “More directness. An attack type of play. More straight ahead and kind of complementary to the way our team plays. But I thought he was coming on at the end of the year, and we’re going to need him as we go along here.”
That last part is the key. Sunday’s benching doesn’t mean Versteeg is completely in the dog house. Quenneville favors his veterans and expects the winger to contribute going forward.
And that’s why it wasn’t surprising to see Versteeg on the fourth line in Wednesday’s practice. Joakim Nordstrom — who played for Versteeg on Sunday — was back in the white sweater usually worn by the healthy scratches.
“I know I can still play,” Versteeg said. “I know when I’m playing good, I can be a help to the team. Right now it’s just about getting back to that and finding a way. Just reaching deep down and — gut-check time. It’s just about that. And hopefully when you get your chance, you come through for the guys.”
That chance may come as early as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, although Versteeg wasn’t sure if he’ll be back in the lineup. That decision will be made by Quenneville later in the week.
Pick Your Opponent
No Blackhawks players would publicly admit they are rooting for the Wild tonight in Minnesota’s Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche, but there are many reasons why the Wild would be the preferable opponent.
The most obvious reason is that the Blackhawks would have home-ice against Minnesota, but winger Bryan Bickell also mentioned the benefit of traveling less in a series against the Wild.
And then there’s the high-altitude issue in Colorado, which Bickell said tends to affect “big guys like me.”
Quenneville played and coached in Colorado, so he’s used to dealing with the altitude.
“It’s something whenever we go in there, we want to make sure (of) shift lengths,” Quenneville said. “We want to make sure you got to go shorter and need better changes. Matchups can be trickier. There would be different challenges as we go along there.”
The Blackhawks lost both meetings in Denver this year by a combined score of 8-3.
Game 1 Friday?
There hasn’t been an official announcement yet, but the Blackhawks were talking like Game 1 would be Friday, no matter the opponent. Bickell said “it sounds like” the game will be Friday, while Quenneville indicated that if they play the Avalanche, they would leave for Colorado on Thursday.
The Blackhawks’ forward lines in practice Wednesday looked like this:
First line: Bickell — Toews — Hossa
Second line: Sharp — Smith — Kane
Third line: Saad — Kruger — Shaw
Fourth line: Bollig — Handzus — Versteeg
Adam Hoge covers the Bears and other sports for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.