Blackhawks' Versteeg staying upbeat

Forward Kris Versteeg was back in the lineup for the Blackhawks on Sunday night against the Wild...

Forward Kris Versteeg was back in the lineup for the Blackhawks on Sunday night against the Wild after being a healthy scratch in Game 4. (Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:04 PM ET

It was supposed to be a crowning return to Chicago for Kris Versteeg.

Instead, the Stanley Cup playoff run for the Blackhawks winger has been filled with banishments to the stockade as a healthy scratch.

“You obviously want to play. You also understand you’re trying to be a part of a team here,” said Versteeg, who returned to the lineup for Sunday’s Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild.

“Whatever it takes to win, you understand. You take it in stride and with positivity. And you try to take what you see from the game from a different perspective and maybe put it into my game tonight. I’m excited to get back in.”

The Western Conference semifinal series was tied 2-2 prior to Sunday’s game.

Being reacquired by the Hawks early this season via a trade with the Florida Panthers was a dream come true for Versteeg. He was part of the Windy City crew’s Cup-winning team of 2010 before being traded in the salary-purging aftermath and then worked his way through the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers before landing in Florida and signing a four year contract worth $4.4 million US per season.

The perpetually rebuilding Panthers traded Versteeg back to the Blackhawks, retaining half of his salary on the contract which runs through the 2015-16 season, and the product of Lethbridge, Alta., figured to be a key piece for another championship run in Chicago.

Instead, he was a healthy scratch for the clinching game against the St. Louis Blues, was supposed to return for the opening clash of the Wild series but fell ill just before puck drop, was ineffective for a couple of games and was again scratched for Friday’s affair.

“You always want to play and be a part of it, but again you have to understand why you’re not in and you gotta find a way to get in the lineup,” Versteeg said. “And when you do, you gotta find a way to stay in the lineup. It’s just something you don’t want to happen, but when it happens you try to chase the positives and learn lessons from it.”

The task is rather simple from head coach Joel Quenneville: Up the tempo of your game.

“We’re looking for more directness in his game, more pace,” Quenneville said. “We were ready to start him at the beginning of the series and he was sick. We want to get him up to speed where he’s contributing with the puck, without the puck, influencing both ways, and have more speed in his game.”

Versteeg certainly was staring at a quality opportunity upon his return, being placed on a line with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell, a trio that was used early in this year’s playoffs.

Versteeg is being counted on to provide some skill and tenacity, which has not only lacked from his game of late but the whole team.

“That’s just the way I’ve always played, is an offensive style and try to be good in my own zone,” he said. “I’ll just try to bring an all-around game that I’ve always been able to do.”

And while Versteeg was making a return on Sunday, Peter Regin was making a Blackhawks playoff debut.

Regin suited up for his first playoff game of the year, in fact his first since 2010 while with the Ottawa Senators.

“It’s been a little while. I’m excited to get in there,” Regin said. “I know my role. I know how I can play. I’m just going to try to play the best I can and see how far that takes me. That’s all I can do. I’m not trying to be anybody else or anything like that. Trying to focus on my game and be ready to go.”

Chicago had to make one change to the forward ranks with Brandon Bollig serving the first part of the two-game suspension he was handed for a hit from behind on Minnesota defenceman Keith Ballard.

Quenneville opted for another by scratching Jeremy Morin and adding Regin, who was acquired from the New York Islanders on Feb. 6.

“He has got some sped and quickness, (is) responsible both sides of the puck,” Quenneville said. “We’re looking to get that element into our game as well.”

Wild defenceman Nate Prosser took the place of the injured Ballard. Prosser played the first two games of the series, but struggled and was replaced by Ballard.

BUCKING THE COFFEE TREND

One game changes everything. Not just on the ice, either.

All season prior to road games, Minnesota Wild winger Nino Niederreiter would select which Starbucks he, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville would go to for their pre-game cup of java.

After the Wild lost the first three games to the Colorado Avalanche in their opening round playoff series, Niederreiter lost that right. The Wild won the next game, the thrilling Game 7 victory to claim the series that saw Niederreiter score the winning goal.

“It used to be my crew,” the winger lamented. “I got pushed out of the group a little bit. So now I have to go when they want to go.”

If you’re wondering what they drink, Parise and Pominville each have a Caffe Americano, while Niederreiter has a triple Espresso.

“Sometimes an extra (Espresso) shot,” he said, alluding to the later start times.


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