If Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was openly joking about his decisions regarding his lineup late Wednesday night, after a dramatic 6-5 overtime win over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, then just imagine what fans were doing behind closed doors.
"Game 3, we were disappointed with our offense," Quenneville said of the 2-0 shutout Monday. "So we went to the well. I'm sure they're excited about returning together. Maybe it looks like I didn't know what I was doing."
That last self-deprecating sentence was said with a laugh. But make no mistake, Quenneville knows exactly what he's doing. That's not to say every decision is right, but there are moves to be made in a best-of-seven series that don't always seem obvious.
When he says they "went to the well," he means reuniting Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell on the Hawks' top line. That trio combined for five points in the win, making the coach's decision in delaying its return a curious one.
"From a coaching standpoint, you're always looking for different matchups," Kane said Wednesday night. "You can understand where they're coming from when they split us up after the last series."
Before the finals, Quenneville didn't dismiss the notion that he broke up his top line because he wanted the Bruins to have to choose whom to guard. If Toews and Kane were split up, then Selke Award finalist Patrice Bergeron and all-world defenseman Zdeno Chara couldn't just check one line.
It was sound thinking, as the Hawks have mixed and matched their forwards over the years, contending they have enough depth to play anyone with anyone else. But many will say why mess with the success that line had in closing out the Los Angeles Kings last round? Kane had a hat trick in the deciding Game 5.
Either theory -- keep them apart or load up -- was sound heading into the series, but leaving a move to go to in case things got hairy was the better way to go. If Quenneville loads up right away and Bruins coach Claude Julien makes adjustments after a game or two, what does Quenneville do? Breaking up his stars would be more demoralizing than uplifting. Reuniting them in a time of need -- as he did Wednesday -- seems inspiring. Leaving room for an uplifting move is something Quenneville has the luxury of doing considering the depth of forwards and potential combinations the Hawks employ.
"Playing with each other for the first time in a little while again, we feel we can get even better and learn what each other does after playing a game like that," Kane said.
Being reunited after offensive failures is simply more of a boost than being separated after similar struggles. The only question Quenneville might have is maybe loading up on his lines from the get-go could have had sustained success. In other words, what if Julien never figures it out?
We'll never know the answer, and that's what Quenneville was joking about. It doesn't mean he was wrong; we'll just never know for sure.
Now the Hawks have to hope that they continue on with the pace they showed in Game 4. Quenneville has pushed all his buttons, including activating his defense. Now his horses have to sprint to the finish.
It doesn't mean Kane and Toews will start and finish the next two or three games on the same line, but trying to capitalize on the momentum from Game 4 is definitely the way to go. The offense is awake, and it's the coach who came in the room and roused it.
Toews and Kane are back together again and not a moment too soon.