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Time (and opportunity) running out for Blackhawks’ role players

Dennis Rasmussen celebrates a goal with Richard Panik on Feb. 28. (Getty Images)

Dennis Rasmussen played 41 straight games, exactly half the season. He was there every night as the Blackhawks grinded through the winter doldrums, reeled off 12 wins in a row, and played a small but significant role as they climbed to the top of the Central Division standings.

Then the Hawks went out and added three forwards and the trade deadline, likely dooming Rasmussen to a seat in the press box throughout the stretch run and the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hockey’s a cruel business, but Rasmussen’s an optimistic sort.

“I look at it as a positive thing,” he said. “We want to go for the Cup here and I’m a part of it. It’s up to the coaches to decide who’s going to play or not, but I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team to win if I’m playing. And if I’m not playing, I’m going to push the guys [at practice].”

Rasmussen and Brandon Mashinter, along with Richard Panik, are the likeliest odd men out when the Hawks return to full strength as Marcus Kruger returns sometime during their three-game road trip next week. Mashinter and Rasmussen have been fixtures on the fourth line since November and December, respectively. And Joel Quenneville knows it’s not fair. But fair doesn’t win championships.

“That’s the business,” Quenneville said. “It’s not easy. Certain players, they have a pretty good idea of the role and you’ve got to accept whatever happens, knowing it’s a competitive business out there and we have to make some tough decisions. … You like having a lot of options. Sometimes it comes down to tough decisions, and certain guys, its not easy to sit. But they have to deal with it and it’s part of being a good pro.”

Rasmussen was a healthy scratch for the third straight game on Wednesday. Panik was a scratch for the fourth time in six games. Mashinter, the last man standing, was in the lineup again Wednesday, but Kruger’s pending return likely will end that soon enough. Quenneville said he wants to keep everyone in the mix down the stretch, but there are no promises. Then again, for fringe players like Rasmussen, Mashinter and Panik, there never were.

“I always feel like I’ve had to prove myself, every day,” Mashinter said. “That’s all you can do, is do your best and make the most of whatever chance you get.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus