Viktor Stalberg’s absence from the Chicago Blackhawks lineup “likely” ends after two games.
The Hawks need better pace in Game 3 against the Red Wings on Monday, so they appear to be reinserting Stalberg, a player with superior speed and lingering hunger from spending the first two games of the series as an observer.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Stalberg is “likely playing” at Joe Louis Arena on Monday, which is Stanley Cup playoff coach-speak for a return to active duty.
“I don’t think you play any different from sitting out,” Stalberg said Sunday. “I want to go out and play the same way I have all year. If they didn’t think I did that in the first round, so be it.
“At the end of the day that’s what made us successful all year personally and from a line standpoint. That’s all I’m looking to do. I’m not going to change anything, just keep playing the same way, try to be hard and tough to play against and use my speed to create something out there.”
Quenneville liked the response from Stalberg, who played in 47 regular season games and was a plus-16 as a third-line stalwart.
“It’s always tough,” Quenneville said. “You’re used to playing, and watching is something not used to, he’s not axcustomed to sitting. I thought he handled it well. He did what had to do to keep himself ready. A couple strong skates and you put yourself in position be ready to help us.”
It doesn’t appear to be the only imminent change. Dave Bolland centered the second line for the Hawks in a short, crisp Sunday practice at the United Center with Michal Handzus sitting out the workout even though he was “fine,” per Quenneville.
With Stalberg’s likely return to the third line, it would seem the only option is to bump Bolland up to the second line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp while the veteran Handzus would slide out of the lineup.
Waiting game: Three key Hawks — wingers Bryan Bickell and Stalberg and goaltender Ray Emery — are unrestricted free agents after the season. General manager Stan Bowman said all talks on new deals are on hold until season’s end.“We’re going to focus on the playoffs now and we’ll certainly get down to business once the season is over,” Bowman said. “I don’t really want to get any distractions at this point.”
On target: Brandon Saad still has only one assist during the postseason but fired a team-high five shots on goal in Game 2. The Calder Trophy finalist thinks he’s close.
“Even if it doesn’t go in, we’re going to get rebounds and create chances and traffic,” Saad said. “The last two games especially, I’ve had a lot of chances. Hopefully we get one here coming up.”
One-timers: Defenseman Johnny Oduya was “fine,” per Quenneville, but sat out practice following a team-high 30 shifts in Game 2. … No goalie change is imminent as Quenneville said, “We’re fine with Corey (Crawford)” on Sunday. … Game 5 at the United Center on Saturday is set for 7 p.m.