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updated: 5/8/2014 10:14 PM

Blackhawks shifting into gear for Game 4

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  • Ben Smith will skate on the Blackhawks' top line with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell in Friday night's Game 4 against the Wild.

      Ben Smith will skate on the Blackhawks' top line with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell in Friday night's Game 4 against the Wild.
    Associated Press

 
 

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Patrick Sharp has played for Joel Quenneville since Day One, so when the Blackhawks coach shakes up his lines in a big way, like he did at practice Thursday, Sharp simply goes with what has become his standard answer over the years.

"We've played for Joel long enough that we're all comfortable playing with each other, and we know that over a playoff series things are going to change, and we trust in our coaching staff to make the right adjustments," Sharp said.

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"You just kind of put your head down, get yourself ready to play, and take the message that the coach is sending."

And that message is a simple one: The Blackhawks, fresh off a 4-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Wild in Game 3, need more offense -- from all four lines -- heading into Friday night's game at the Xcel Energy Center.

"We're looking for balance and a little more threat to score on all the lines," Quenneville said. "Offense, defensive reliability, and at the same time having maybe more offense spread out throughout our lineup."

With that in mind, the Hawks coach unveiled some new-look lines that may or may not stick by game time Friday, beginning with Ben Smith continuing his season-long ascension by skating with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell on the top line.

"He's got some upside offensively, and he's got that dependability defensively, so we'll see how it plays out," Quenneville said.

Smith couldn't even recall if he has ever played alongside Toews before in his brief pro career.

"There's been a lot of line juggling, so I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe a few shifts here or there. But no one's going to turn down a chance to play with Toews.

"He's special, one of the top five players in the league. If that's the chance I'm given, I'll do whatever I can to help him and the team."

The new second line consists of Patrick Kane, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Saad.

"We haven't been playing as good as we know we can and sometimes to mix it up gets a sparkle," Kruger said. "I've played with Saader a few games back, so I think that doesn't change my game too much."

Marian Hossa drops from the top line to join Michal Handzus and Sharp on the third line.

"It always gives us a jump, and Joel has got a good feel for the team and what he thinks our best lineup can be going forward," said Sharp, who had been a second-line staple alongside Smith and Kane.

It looks like Kris Versteeg may be the odd man out on a fourth line that on Thursday consisted of Brandon Bollig, Joakim Nordstrom and Jeremy Morin.

"The last game we were playing fine, but I don't think we made (the Wild) play enough in their own end," Quenneville said. "I think we didn't keep the pedal to the metal like we would have liked to."

The Hawks on the gas from the opening puck drop is exactly what Minnesota is expecting to see in Game 4.

"I absolutely do," coach Mike Yeo said. "They've been playing very tight and we've been playing very tight.

"There's no question that I expect them to come out and try and pressure more and skate and get their speed as more of a factor."

The Wild experienced a little of that speed game in the final minutes Tuesday.

"I think that's when they're at their best, when they're going at you, trying to attack, trying to make plays every single time," defenseman Ryan Suter said of the Hawks. "You kind of saw that in the third period; they started to really open it up.

"They had some really good zone time, and I expect that's what they're going to bring tomorrow night."

mspellman@dailyherald.com

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