By Jay Zawaski
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(CBS) — Saturday afternoon, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced a two-game suspension for Blackhawks winger Brandon Bollig. In the 2nd period, Bollig boarded Wild defenseman Keith Ballard and was given a two-minute penalty. The hit was clearly illegal, dirty and reckless. As a result, Ballard will not make the trip to Chicago for Game 5. His injury played a role in Bollig getting suspended.
With Bollig out, the door has re-opened for Kris Versteeg, who has been a healthy scratch for three of the Hawks’ seven playoff games, including Friday’s 4-2 loss in Minnesota. Make no mistake: Versteeg has deserved his benchings. He has only 2 points in the playoffs, and has only registered nine shots in those seven games. His playoff Corsi percentage is 44.65, which is -7.8 percent compared to the team average. Bottom line — he’s been bad.
It will be interesting to see how Joel Quenneville utilizes Versteeg in Sunday’s Game 5, assuming he plays. If he’s interested in revitalizing Versteeg, he may opt to put him on one of the top three lines. If not, look for Versteeg to plug along on the 4th line and play 7-9 minutes in the game.
When Versteeg is at the top of his game, he’s creating offense with his speed, hands and elusiveness. However, Chicago fans haven’t seen that version of Versteeg since he left the club after the 2010 season. This year, he’s been an unmitigated disaster. He’s gone long stretches (9, 9, 11, 8 games) without a goal. His current streak of 16 games without a goal is his season worst.
Peter Regin (remember him?) is the lone player who could possibly be an option instead of Versteeg, but Quenneville has given no indication that he expects to get the center into a game. If I was behind the bench, Regin would be my pick over Versteeg. Regin has shown a willingness to get to the net and can play effective center.
HYPOTHETICAL LINES WITH REGIN :READ MORE: Chicago Weather: A Quiet And Cool Fall Weekend
Bickell – Toews – Hossa
Sharp – Smith – Kane
Saad – Regin – Morin
Handzus – Kruger – Nordstrom
Of course, these lines make far too much sense, so they’ll never happen. The smart money is on Versteeg just filling in the 4th line slot left empty by Bollig, and Quenneville hitting “puree” on his magical line blender.
Regardless of who replaces Bollig, the Blackhawks have to adapt their game to get a win. Yes, the Wild are a different team in Minnesota, but there is no reason to believe they couldn’t have won both games one and two in Chicago. The Wild were as good or better than the Hawks in many categories in those games. Yes, the Hawks pulled away late, but both games could have gone to either team.
Minnesota has found success pressuring the Hawks’ puck carriers and rushing back defensively. At some points, the Wild had as many as 5 (or 6…heh) skaters in the defensive zone when the Blackhawks enter. Therefore, when opportunities to put the puck on net present themselves, the Hawks need to take advantage. When the Hawks look “awful,” like they did last night, they are forcing their style and not adapting to the game on the ice. Extra passes. Unsuccessful stretch passes. Turnovers. These are the symptoms of a Hawks team off their game.MORE NEWS: Amid Critical CPS School Bus Driver Shortage, One Company Uses Halloween Event As Recruiting Tool
The Wild clearly aren’t going to roll over for the Blackhawks. Game 5 is huge for Chicago. They don’t want to head back to Minnesota in a potential elimination game. The Wild have yet to lose in their home building during these playoffs, and have shown no signs of struggle versus Chicago.