CHICAGO -- The final act of the postseason is about to commence, and if you’re still wondering how the Chicago Blackhawks got here, you can look no further than something Jonathan Toews said after Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks.
“During the regular season, sometimes you can get by on talent,” he said. “Once the postseason began guys started accepting roles.”
Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, and Kris Versteeg are names that come to mind. While much has been written and said about the former two, Versteeg has had a transformation to his game that’s been just as dramatic and epitomizes Toews' statement.
An offensive-minded player who would thrill and frustrate fans within the same game, Versteeg has excelled on the checking line with Bolland and Andrew Ladd. The first step was accepting the role.
“When it comes down to it, and you’re playing against that top line, you have to be a lot smarter,” Versteeg said. “I don’t think I played against the top line during the season, but in the playoffs it’s been a bit different.”
It’s hard to recall one time during the playoffs where Versteeg turned the puck over and the opponent had a good scoring chance the other way. With his skating ability and skill with the puck, it’s something that occurred every so often during the regular season. Not now.
“He’s been very patient with the puck,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “His vision and patience with the puck is high end. When he does play against the other team’s top line, you do have some offensive opportunity. He has the ability to finish and the ability to check.”
And that has been the whole key to the Hawks' third line: The ability to play at both ends. Forcing the opponent’s top line to play in its own zone has been as important as anything in shutting down players such as Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton.
“He can be affective playing a lot of positions,” Patrick Sharp said of Versteeg. “He -- along with others -- has really stepped up his game, and that’s one reason we are where we are.
“When you put a guy like Versteeg on the third line it just adds another element of offense there.”
Quenneville agrees that once the postseason began, Versteeg accepted a new role.
“I think everyone has been receptive to whatever we can do to make each other better to win hockey games,” Quenneville said.
Versteeg isn’t satisfied. He wants to up his play one final time.
“I’ve been happy with myself, but I know I can contribute a lot more,” he said. “That’s what I want to do.”