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Blackhawks checking line making mark

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 10:50 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo by Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Chicago Blackhawks Dave Bolland (36) and Viktor Stalberg (25) celebrate a goal by teammate Nick Leddy that slippoed by Anaheim Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth (30) in the second period at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, February 12, 2013. The Ducks beat the Blackhawks in a shootout, 3-2.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — The only points awarded to the Blackhawks’ third line in a shootout loss Tuesday would have come via the amateur rink-side judges during Bryan Bickell’s brief second-period fracas, with everyone checking on the proper scoring for delivering a spinebuster takedown to the ice.

Otherwise production has been far less theoretical and subjective in the first 13 games. That so-called checking line has offered two-way production and conjured thoughts of the same line, with different personnel, doing the same things en route to a Stanley Cup title three years ago.

The thinking for Andrew Shaw, Viktor Stalberg and Bickell may be defense first. But between them, the trio has seven goals and 18 points to date, the sort of supplemental production that precludes opponents from taking even the slightest breath.

“Good defense always leads to good offense,” Shaw said. “We’re just supporting the puck and battling for each other, and good chances have come from that.

“We have to compete in our own end and get pucks out. They can’t score if they’re not in our end. We just try to work on that aspect, and go to the net and get some dirty goals.”

In the Cup run of 2010, it was the combination of Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd that ground down opponents while also providing 17 goals and 36 points during the postseason.

The similarities may be superficial, but they are there: Bickell and Ladd as physical presences, Versteeg and Stalberg as the firepower, Shaw and Bolland as the feisty middlemen.

“Stalberg has great speed and a good shot,” Bickell said. “I know Shaw hasn’t been playing center in a while but he’s starting to feel it on his own, he’s getting used to filling in at center. Then there’s me, I’m a bigger guy and I like to get physical. Those three things together, it has been working.”

Really, the relatively unknown presence was Shaw, the fifth-round pick in 2011 who has all of 50 regular-season games under his belt. The various responsibilities at center, though, have not overwhelmed him.

“He has progressed as we have gone along,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s learning defensively where to be in the responsible areas and ways. Offensively, he protects the puck well, wants it around the net, has some creativity.”

Alleviating some of the pressure may be the lack of strict matching lines, as Quenneville feels all four of his can play against all four of the opposing side. It boosts the rhythm in all the combinations, and as Bickell contended, it also boosts the confidence for every player to skate through mistakes.

And as near-flawless as the 10-0-3 Hawks have been with points in every outing, even a third line must remain productive in hot pursuit of a title in an abbreviated campaign.

“Especially in a year like this, you’re going to have to be,” Stalberg said. “Forty-eight games in 99 days, it’s going to be a battle no matter what. If you can get those 12 forwards going every night, that’s going to be huge for you.”

No telling if this trio can be as productive as the 2010 version. What’s certain is that the production is vital.

“That line is very important,” Quenneville said. “They all bring a little something different.”

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