Your move, Claude Julien.
That’s what Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville seemed to be saying as he acted with creative, pre-emptive Scotty Bowman-like deviousness Tuesday.
The Stanley Cup Final hadn’t started, but the gamesmanship seemed to.
When the Hawks practiced Tuesday, the scorching line of Jonathan Toews centering Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell had been broken up. Suddenly, Toews was centering Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, while Kane and Bickell skated with Michal Handzus.
Joel Quenneville might’ve appeared crazy in breaking up the best line in the Western Conference finals clincher. We know he likes to tinker with his lines, but come ON. The Hawks finally found a game-turning trio, and then poof, it’s gone before the next and most important series?
Stop Quenneville before he taps someone else on the shoulder again.
But wait. I’m kidding. Kid. Ding. Quenneville isn’t crazy. He’s smart. He’s ahead of the play, and the play he made Tuesday forced Julien, his counterpart behind the Boston bench, into an important decision early:
How to deploy the black-and-gold condor with the 57-foot reach named Zdeno Chara?
If Quenneville had kept together the Toews line, then Julien’s choice would’ve been easy. Chara and his shutdown defense partner Dennis Seidenberg would hop over the boards against the Hawks’ best line and then dare the rest of them to score.
Now, though, it’s a game before Game 1.
Does Julien want Chara and Seidenberg to muscle up against Bickell in front while trying to reach Kane or does he sic them on the new Toews line that is bigger and potentially as explosive?
This kind of pre-emptive move smacks of Quenneville’s decision --- or Bowman’s --- to counter the Chris Pronger menace in the 2010 finals.
The Flyers had tied the series at two wins apiece when someone moved Dustin Byfuglien off the Toews line --- took everyone off the Toews line, in fact --- and forced the Flyers into a choice:
Does Pronger play against the biggest guy or the best scorers?
Turned out, the rehabbed Hawks lines left lesser defensemen scrambling for ways to defend Toews and Kane and left Pronger dead against Byfuglien. Official scorers are still adding up Pronger’s minuses, I believe.
So, the Flyers did not choose wisely. Will Julien?
The Bruins coach might split up Chara and Seidenberg, especially on the road when he doesn’t have the last change. He has done that before, and might’ve expected Quenneville’s move and figured he’d have to settle for getting Chara against at least one of the Hawks’ top two lines.
Then again, the Hawks’ practice lines Tuesday might’ve been just a prank. Quenneville might’ve just tried to mess with the Bruins’ preparation. It’s the playoffs, after all, and lying and deceit are all the rage.