Joel Quenneville's penchant for mixing and matching forwards is well known by fans, players and opposing coaches.
In fact, whether he knows it or not, there is a commonly-used nickname for the Chicago Blackhawks coach's line juggling that fans often use. They refer to it as the "Q line blender," and it's often operating, proverbially, on high speed.
This Western Conference First Round series, tied 2-2 between the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, is no exception. The "Q blender" is working hard as the best-of-7 series shifts back to Scottrade Center for Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, FS-MW, CSN-CH).
After starting out placing Patrick Kane at right wing on the third line, Quenneville has since reunited him with captain Jonathan Toews' top line (in Game 3) and then split them up again in the third period of Game 4 on Wednesday, a 4-3 Chicago victory that ended with Kane's goal in overtime.
"I think it's a feel thing," Quenneville said Thursday of his itchy trigger finger. "You go into the game and you have a couple of ideas if you don't like the way it looks. Sometimes certain guys are going better than other guys and maybe you give the certain guy a little bit more quality [time], maybe you take away a little here and there. You see how it works."
If it's working, he usually leaves things alone, especially in the regular season. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is less patience. The second his forwards fail to provide what he wants, it's often time to change it up.
"Sometimes in a course of a game it can work, but I think when you don't like the way things are going, you don't mind mixing it up a little bit," Quenneville said. "For the most part this series has been so close, so tight … [Wednesday] night may have been the first time we really tweaked the lines a little bit more."
The blender was set to frappé for Game 4.
Chicago started out with the same lines that finished off a big 2-0 victory in Game 3 at United Center on Monday. As things progressed, the game of musical chairs began.
Tied 2-2 early in the third, Quenneville put Kane back at his usual spot on the right wing of the second line. He kept forward Patrick Sharp at left wing on that line and flip-flopped forward Ben Smith, who'd started at right wing on the fourth line, with forward Michal Handzus, who began the game centering the second line.
In overtime, it was a blend of the second and third lines that sparked Kane's game-winning goal at 11:17. Brandon Saad, who'd been moved to the right side of the third line from the top group, joined a 3-on-3 rush with Smith and Kane, who fired the puck into the top left corner while his linemates rushed the net.
Toews offered a bit of insight into what it's like as a player when the "Q blender" powers up.
"If it's during a game you don't get much notice at all," Toews said. "He calls out the line and you notice that there might be one guy different and you're like 'OK, that's the way it's going to be,' and away you go."
Blackhawks players, who've each spent a little time with nearly every other forward on the roster, have learned to trust their coach's instincts. They've won the Stanley Cup twice in four seasons doing it, so there's proof behind the methods.
"[Wednesday] night I think it was going really well with [Bickell] and [Kane]," Toews said Thursday. "I'm not sure if [Quenneville] was just looking for us to be able to check their top line a little bit better and make sure that we were tighter on them, and put [Hossa] back with me and [Bickell], but it worked out. If we're back together [Friday] we'll go out there and try and create as much as we did [Wednesday] night."
Asked if the forwards will start Game 5 the same as Game 4 finished, Quenneville gave a brief answer that summed up his tendencies perfectly.
"Uh," he said, pausing. "We'll see."
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