At one point Tuesday night, the Blackhawks’ fourth line skated against the Wild’s first line.
In the context of most postseason series, this matchup might prompt concussion protocol tests for the coaching staff, or questions about whether all the other players suddenly contracted plague.
For the top-seeded Stanley Cup favorite, it is part of the plan.
“We want every line to be trusted [to] play against anyone,” said Marcus Kruger, who centers the fourth line. “It makes it easier for everyone. If we’re out there against their top line, someone else has to be out there against ours.”
All-zones balance on all four lines enables coach Joel Quenneville and his staff to worry less about forcing matchups. That, in turn, relieves the top performers of a shift or two or three that, in theory, adds up to more zest as a series plods on.
The Wild came close in Game 1. The Hawks are counting on them not having the wheels to stay close going forward.
“It’s supposed to be one of the advantages we have,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It doesn’t matter who gets the job done. We find ways to wear teams down.”
At the United Center tonight, Quenneville will enjoy the host’s luxury: the last change, the chance to position the defensive pairing or line combination of their choice against whomever the Wild dispatch.
Only that’s trumped by another luxury: not really having to worry about it.
Yes, defensemen Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson will see plenty of the Wild’s first line, featuring Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. As will Toews’ line.
But no one will panic when they don’t.
“Going into every game, we usually have some assignments we want, more so on the back end,” Quenneville said. “Up front, the thing this year we’ve been comfortable with is anybody can play against anybody, in all zones.”
Strength-on-strength matchups typically dictate a good portion of any series. The Hawks’ intent is to make it nearly impossible for the Wild to discern what’s strength, and what isn’t, before it’s too late.