CHICAGO - It can be a sign of hope or proof of failure.
When a coach is forced to shuffle his lines, it is a tipping point since the move is usually out of desperation, an attempt to circumvent a matchup benefiting the opposition or to find some sort of salvation in change.
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville finds himself occupying that slippery slope.
Make no mistake about it, everything about the ’Hawks should be desperate right now, which might sound like an extreme thing to say about a team that finds itself tied 2-2 in the Stanley Cup final heading into a home Game 5 Sunday night.
The ’Hawks can talk about how they need to be better in the hand-to-hand stuff, how they have been victimized by “sh--ty,” bounces, as Chicago winger Kris Versteeg put it Saturday, but that is the talk of a team that does not want to contemplate the intimidating reality: maybe the Philadelphia Flyers are just better.
Worse, from the Chicago point of view, is the Flyers are getting better.
Shift by shift, the Flyers, made out to be huge underdogs by those who watched the ’Hawks plow through the Western Conference, have methodically taken over control of this series. After losing the first two games here at the United Center, the Flyers held serve in Philly and have the ’Hawks second-guessing themselves.
“When you’re winning, I think I’m very patient,” said Quenneville when asked about pulling the trigger on line changes. “When you come off a couple of games like that, you look at doing different things. A lot of guys can play with each other and it gives you some versatility as well. You always want your top guys being out there in key situations.”
Down 4-1 in the third Friday night, Quenneville broke up is top line, replacing flashy little Patrick Kane with grinder Andrew Ladd.
Kane has been practically invisible in the shadow of Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger except when he’s having his helmet knocked off.
Big Dustin Byfuglien? Pronger has been like David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear. You know it’s still there somewhere, but you can’t see it.
Kane joined Versteeg and Dave Bolland and the moves by Quenneville worked, to some small extent. They benefited from a 5-on-3 power play to cut the Flyers lead to 4-2 and Ladd had an assist when defenceman Brian Campbell got an ugly one to make it a one-goal game.
So you have to qualify the success. If the ’Hawks don’t get that 5-on-3 thanks to Philly’s Scott Hartnell banging his stick on the boards and getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the game probably ends 4-1.
It’s tough to tell how successful the line shifting was, though the ’Hawks did have some zone time in the Philly end.
“Whether it’s a difference of them being concerned with a couple of different lines, that might be something we’ll be looking at,” said Quenneville. “But I thought it was a little more effective in the third period.”
What will be interesting now is what combinations Quenneville comes back with for Game 5. He does have the benefit of last change, so he might be able to keep captain Jonathan Toews, Byfuglien and Kane together and separate from Pronger, though, as has been pointed out, when Pronger is on the ice for 30 minutes a game, it’s hard to avoid him.
When asked if he sensed the line juggling working for the ’Hawks in the third, Pronger said: “Well, it really wasn’t working until they got a 5-on-3. You’re observation probably is moot, at best.”
As the sparring continued, the reporter said it was Quenneville’s opinion the line juggling worked.
Said Pronger: “There you go. I guess Joel is wrong, too.”