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Q’s golden touch? Ladd-Kruger-Hossa line thriving vs. Blues

Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd is denied by Blues goalie Brian Elliott in the third period of Game 6. But Ladd scored a goal and later assisted on a goal by linemate Marian Hossa in the Hawks' 6-3 victory. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The secret to Joel Quenneville’s uncanny ability to find the right combination at just the right time in a playoff series is a part intuition, experience and coaching acumen, but also a credit to the world-class roster he has had at his disposal throughout his seven seasons as the Blackhawks’ head coach.

That undeniably is a factor in the latest postseason revelation: the reconstituted third line of wingers Andrew Ladd and Marian Hossa with center Marcus Kruger. Quenneville’s decision to go with the “nuclear option” of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the first line led Quenneville to drop both Ladd and Hossa from the top line to the third line. Kruger had been centering Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw on the third/fourth line.

Quenneville used the same rationale for putting Kane and Toews together as he did for keeping them apart — line balance. That’s the luxury of having this roster to work with.

“When we went to those lines, we were looking for balance,” Quenneville said. “Putting Kaner [Kane] with Tazer [Toews], we always find that’s when we’re in a real tough spot — we try that and we felt that we had way more balance.

“I didn’t envision that line [during the season], because we envisioned Desi [Desjardins] and Krugs [Kruger] and Shawzy [Shaw] as that linel and we started like that. Based on the results, we moved ‘em around.”

In two games — both victories — the Ladd-Kruger-Hossa line arguably has changed the dynamic of the Hawks’ attack more than any other. It gives the Hawks a strong “checking” line with three defensive-minded players. But Ladd and Hossa also are capable offensive threats who seem more dangerous when they aren’t counted on for top-line production.

It particularly paid off in the Hawks’ 6-3 victory over the Blues in Game 6. Ladd scored the opening goal — off a steal by Kruger — and added an assist . Hossa had an assist and scored an empty-net goal, assisted by Ladd, in the third period. And in both games they contained the Blues’ top line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz, with Tarasenko scoring the trio’s lone five-on-five goal in the two games.

“They’re both great to play with,” Ladd said of his linemates. “We have a lot of speed and a lot of awareness — of being on the right side of the puck and checking the right way. “Against a line like that, they’re looking for any  offense they can get. So our main focus is not giving it to them.”

Hossa, coming off career-lows in goals (13) and shooting percentage (6.8) figured to have to reinvent himself as a third-line or defensive-first forward eventually. He has no problem with the switch.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m glad I can help the team, especially at my age, any way I can. I have defensive responsibility, but Joel wants us to create something offensively, too. So it’s pretty much the same. My job didn’t change.”