Heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks faced the prospects of a 3-1 series deficit against the Boston Bruins. With star forward Marian Hossa missing Game 3 due to an undisclosed upper-body injury, head coach Joel Quenneville altered his lines to compensate for the absence.
One of the changes he did not make was pairing captain Jonathan Toews with Patrick Kane. Some believed that was a mistake on Quenneville's part. Whether he believes that to be the case remains to be seen. However, he decided to put the two stars back together with Bryan Bickell for Game 4. The result was a combined six-point night from the trio and a 6-5 overtime victory that will send the series back to Chicago knotted at two.
"You always get second-guessed," Quenneville said post-game. "At the same time, you know, I think we didn't mind the way we played the first game, first part of the second game. Game 3 we were disappointed with our offense. So we went to the well. I'm sure [Bickell, Kane and Toews are] excited about returning together. Maybe it looks like I didn't know what I was doing."
While some might question the decision to breakup the line, it's understandable why Quenneville would choose to do so. With Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara available to Boston, Chicago was likely looking to exploit the match-up game.
"Well, I think from a coaching standpoint, you're always looking for different match-ups," Kane said after the game.
"At the same time, just playing with each other for the first time in a little while again, we feel we can get even better and learn what each other does after playing a game like that."
The reason the trio had success was credited to their complimentary skill sets.
"Everybody in that line brings something different to the party," Quenneville said. "Bicks off the rush can shoot. Kaner has possession. Johnny gets through. It's a nice combination. So it was nice to see them back and productive, too."
While Kane and Toews have largely been identified as the two players that need to be paired together, Bickell has contributed a considerable amount of production. Through 21 games this postseason, the 27-year-old forward has accumulated eight goals and seven assists for 15 points. By comparison, he had scored nine goals through the entirety of the 48-game regular season.
Toews credits Bickell's success to his ability to identify play development, which allows him to compliment his partners.
"A lot of credit goes to Bickell [...] he's playing smart hockey," the captain said of his linemate. "He's not giving the puck away. He's holding onto it, keeping the play alive. When the two of us [Kane and Toews] can make some plays and open up space for him, he's a dangerous guy, too. The three of us have been playing well together and we want to keep that work ethic going."
Thanks to Wednesday night's win, the trio will be guaranteed at least two more opportunities to extend that work ethic beyond Game 4. The series is now a best-of-three match-up and could feature two more games in Chicago, including a potential Game 7 if necessary.
Game 5 is scheduled to take place on Saturday night.