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Hossa comfortable with third-line role as Hawks seek balance

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There was a time in Marian Hossa’s career, back when he was a freewheeling, 40-goal-scoring offensive juggernaut, when the idea of playing on a third line would’ve been insulting and problematic. That, of course, was before he realized how much more fun it is to win the Stanley Cup than to just put up big scoring numbers.

“It’s definitely a little different situation between the first two lines and the third line,” said Hossa, who has been alternating between Dennis Rasmussen and Marcus Kruger as linemates and rookies Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero. “But I’m at the stage, at that age, where I don’t mind. I’m willing to play on the third line, to do whatever it takes to help the team win hockey games. It’s about that balance.”

At 38, Hossa is nearly as close in age to Joel Quenneville as he is to Nick Schmaltz. With age comes wisdom, and perspective, and Hossa now sees what Quenneville sees — that with Jonathan Toews on the top line, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin on the second line and Hossa on the third line, the Hawks have three genuine scoring lines. Hossa’s presence in the bottom six also helps beef up the fourth line, a key ingredient to the Hawks’ success in recent seasons.

“When you’ve got three lines, and [Hossa] not on your top two, it obviously shows you’ve got a little depth in your team,” Quenneville said.

Marian Hossa has 20 goals and 14 assists in 52 games this season. (AP Photo)

After bouncing around the lineup a bit early on (he actually has seen time with all four of the Hawks’ primary centers), Hossa spent much of the season in his usual spot alongside Toews. But Quenneville bumped Hossa down about a month ago, swapping him with Richard Panik, and the Hawks have been playing their best hockey of the season since, rolling four lines for the first time. In fact, despite dropping in the lineup, Hossa’s ice time has only slipped from a little more than 17 minutes per game to a little more than 16 minutes, and his roles on the power play and penalty kill haven’t changed.

“The minutes are pretty much the same,” said Hossa, who still shares the team lead with 21 goals. “Me and Joel talked about that — if I don’t play the kind of minutes I’m used to, then I don’t think I could be as effective doing my thing. The ice time is just a little bit lower than being on the first two lines, but I don’t mind doing it if it helps us win hockey games.

‘‘At my age, I’m all about that — winning the hockey games and winning championships.”

Back at it
Vinnie Hinostroza’s bye week was a little busier than that of most of his teammates. Hinostroza played three games in Rockford, then flew to Buffalo on Sunday morning to rejoin the Hawks. The Buffalo game was his third in as many nights and his fourth in five nights.

Hinostroza replaced Andrew Desjardins on the fourth line. Jordin Tootoo and Michal Rozsival were the other healthy scratches. Quenneville had suggested that Rozsival could get in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 15 but stuck with his same six defensemen.

Draw down
Since returning from a hand injury, Kruger had taken only 17 faceoffs entering the game against the Sabres, winning six and losing 11. He had been the Hawks’ second-best faceoff man after Toews before the injury, with a 51-percent success rate.

Rasmussen, who has been Kruger’s left wing most nights, has taken the bulk of the draws. A natural center, Rasmussen has won a respectable 48.7 percent of his draws since Kruger returned.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.
Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com