On Friday night, the Chicago Blackhawks went into the United Center with a lot of motivation ahead of their game with the Anaheim Ducks.
For starters, there was the fact that they hadn’t beaten the Ducks in six straight meetings, but there was also the matter of the Ducks’ run of 18 victories in their past 19 games overall. With both of those streaks on the line, the Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and ended up withstanding a late push by Anaheim as Marian Hossa potted an empty net goal in the closing stages of the game to seal a 4-2 victory against the top team in the Western Conference.
While a lot of the headlines focused on the efforts of Hossa and the top line in the game (and rightfully so), the effort that the third line of the Hawks put in was perhaps even more impressive when all was said and done. Combined, that group comprised of Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus, and Kris Versteeg accounted for two goals, six shots on goal, and had numerous shifts when they clearly had the better of the visitors.
The performance was even more notable because of some of the comments that head coach Joel Quenneville made about the line following Tuesday’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Quenneville ended up benching Bickell for all but one shift in the third period, and he conceded after the game that “things haven’t gone very well for him,” which is about as close as Quenneville will get to publicly throwing a player under the bus.
In this game though, the third line delivered on the massive potential that they have to be as solid a two-way line as the Hawks have. Versteeg had one memorable moment when he stuck with a play despite having the puck knocked off his stick by two different Ducks players, and his determination to get to the net ended up paying off as he backhanded a shot past Jonas Hiller to give Chicago a 2-0 lead.
Bickell also made a tremendous play in the game on his goal, as he drove past two Ducks’ defenders on his way to the net, and even though he didn’t get a lot on the ensuing shot, it was enough as it hit Hiller high, and the Anaheim goaltender took a couple of swipes at the puck before eventually knocking into the cage as he tried to glove it down.
The third line did experience a scary moment when Versteeg collided with Bickell at the end of the second period, and even though the winger did miss the third period following the play, Versteeg insists that he will be on the ice when the Hawks tangle with the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon at the United Center.
That third line group will be especially critical against a deep Bruins team that plays a very similar game to the Hawks. They are a defensively gritty bunch, but they have scoring up and down the lineup, and they will be looking to make a statement against the team that dashed their Stanley Cup hopes last June in a six-game classic series.
If Versteeg and Bickell can play with the type of confidence that they showed against the Ducks on Friday night, then the Blackhawks have a great chance to send Boston away with a defeat after the Cup Final rematch. If they come out and play as tentatively as they did against the Avalanche on Tuesday, then it could be a long day for the Hawks as they play in front of a national TV audience.
We'll be chatting about the Blackhawks' showdown with the Bruins on the Madhouse Enforcer Twitter feed during the game, so check out @Madhousenforcer if you want to follow along!