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Shorthanded Blackhawks embrace new-look lineup and Wild challenge

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The bad news for Jeremy Morin is that he’s been sent down to Rockford three times. The good news for Morin is that also means he’s been recalled from Rockford three times.

“It’s been like that for the first couple months of the season, up and down,” Morin said after Thursday’s morning skate in Minnesota. “But I’m never mad making the drive to Chicago.”

Morin and Joakim Nordstrom were both recalled Wednesday and will play in tonight’s Central Division game against the Minnesota Wild. They were summoned because Michal Handzus (sick) and Andrew Shaw (upper-body injury after taking a big hit along the boards late in Tuesday’s loss to Dallas) didn’t make the trip.

Their stays could be short, again — Hawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn’t rule either Handzus or Shaw out for Friday’s home game against Anaheim — but they’re just happy for another opportunity to prove themselves.

“It means a lot,” Nordstrom said. “I’m really happy to be here. It’s going to be fun.”

Nordstrom surprisingly made the roster out of training camp as a potential replacement for Michael Frolik on the fourth line and the penalty kill, but was sent back to Rockford on Oct. 20, less than three weeks into the season, after posting one goal and no assists in eight games. Quenneville still thinks the 21-year-old Swede can be the long-term answer on the PK.

“That was one of the ideas [behind sending him down], we could give him more penalty killing time, he could learn that art, knowing that he can really add something to our team this year,” Quenneville said. “We anticipated at the start of the year he could be that guy, and hopefully at some point he can grab that. But he’s going to come up here tonight, and he’s got an opportunity to play a little bit of center for us, as well. He can play all three positions, so we’ll put him in the middle and see how he handles it.”

In fact, the Hawks are missing three of their four regular centers — Handzus, Shaw and Brandon Pirri, who was sent down to Rockford on Wednesday. Quenneville said Pirri — who had six goals and five assists but was pointless in his last eight games, most of which came after he was bumped down to the third line upon Handzus’ return from injury — had to work on his “consistency and defensive play.”

“I thought his play leveled out here over the last stretch of games,” Quenneville said. “We all felt [by sending him down, we could] give him some confidence, get his game going again, where it seems like he has the puck more and is contributing more.”

Even with three centers missing, Quenneville elected to keep together his fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, which has been so strong of late. With a “third line” of Morin, Nordstrom and defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, it’s a safe bet that the “fourth line” will see more minutes than usual. Meanwhile, Kris Versteeg and Brandon Saad will each get a crack at playing center on the second line with Patrick Kane. The top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa remains unchanged.

Corey Crawford will start in goal.

“It’s an opportunity for guys to step up in different situations, and I think guys will probably see a little more ice time than maybe they have in the past,” Kane said. “But I think it’s something you’re going to deal with, whether it’s injuries or sickness or different lineups. You’re always going to have to adjust. I think that’s been one of the positives for our team for a long time. I don’t think it’s something we’re really worried about. We’re just excited for the next couple of games, because you want to prove yourself against good teams, even when you are shorthanded.”

Even when the Blackhawks dressing room starts to look more and more like the Rockford IceHogs room.

“There are a lot of guys that have played in Rockford that are here already,” Smith said. “It’s always good having the guys come up and bring a little bit of energy, a little bit of spark. I know Nordy and Mo coming back will definitely bring that tonight.”