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Blackhawks' changes pay off in Game 5 win

06/07/2010 10:41 AM - From (link)

-- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien were all brought to the podium Sunday night following the Blackhawks' 7-4 victory against the Flyers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. It's a meaningful situation because sitting on the podium is a sign you've performed well enough to be taken out of the dressing room and placed in front of the cameras and media horde.

The only difference this time was Toews, Kane and Byfuglien received the honor after playing on different lines, something they hadn't done since early in the second round of the playoffs.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville split up his top line and shuffled his second and third lines after poor performances in Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia. It paid huge dividends in Game 5 as six players scored in the Blackhawks' best performance of the series that earned them 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"I thought we had good energy right from the outset," said Quenneville, whose team jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first period. "Great pace. Had speed on all the lines. I think there was some balance as far as offensive ability, reliability defensively. Kept that pace from start to finish.

The top line of Toews centering Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky opened the game and generated scoring chances and pressure immediately. Of the three, only Toews had a point (an assist on a power play), but they combined for 13 shots and spent a lot of time in the Flyers zone.

Kane spent the night on the second line with Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd and all three were clicking from the outset. Kane and Sharp had a goal and an assist and Ladd assisted on Kane's goal that put Chicago ahead 4-1 early in the second period.

But it was Byfuglien, along with Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland, who did most of the damage on what was the third line only in name. Byfuglien had 2 goals and 2 assists, Versteeg had 1 goal and 2 assists and Bolland had 1 goal and 1 assist.

"I think you have to give Joel credit," Sharp said. "He has a great feel for making adjustments as the series goes on and mixing and matching lines. I think the way we came out skating for tonight's game, you could have put anybody with anybody. That was our best first period in a while and it was nice to see."

Part of the idea behind splitting up the Kane-Toews-Byfuglien line was to get them away from Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, who has been instrumental in shutting them down. After four games, the line combined for 1 goal, 4 assists and a minus-13 rating. But Sunday night, Pronger was on the ice for six of the Blackhawks' seven goals and was in the penalty box for the other one.

Pronger was ineffective while seeing time against all of the Blackhawks' top lines, who displayed great chemistry partly because they had spent time together at some points during the regular season.

"When we mix up lines, we're great," said Bolland, who thought it was "great" that Pronger was on the ice for so many goals. "I think everybody's played with everybody in this room. Everybody has chemistry with everybody on this team. I think that was the best thing, switching up lines and putting everybody together the whole season is great for us because you never know when this time will come and today was the day."

Pronger, who played a game-high 28:37 and was a minus-5, offered a different assessment.

"I don't know if the changes mattered all that much," he said. "We didn't do a very good job in the neutral zone. Unless we get pressure and force them to make plays, anyone can make a play when they have all day to make one. We just need to get a better forecheck, be better in the neutral zone and force them to make tougher decisions with the puck."

Some Blackhawks, including Sharp, said they found out about their new linemates during the morning practice. Other Blackhawks, like Kane and Byfuglien, said they had no idea who they were going to have on their line until right before game time. No matter how or when the news was delivered, it was a much-needed change that the players weren't bitter about.

"We didn't have too much production out of us. We had to change things up," Byfuglien said of the top line. "We didn't really have time to sit and think about who we were playing with. It was kind of like the last second. It wasn't a real big thing. It was just going out there and playing together as a team and moving our feet and doing the right things."

Now it's just a matter of keeping this good thing going no matter who is playing with who. The Blackhawks will try to clinch their first Stanley Cup since 1961 when they head to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"The line changes obviously looked like a good thing," Toews said. "But the number one thing was the way we played as a team. We all understand in our locker room it doesn't matter who you are playing with. You have to go out there and make a difference."

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