The Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of options for their lineup Tuesday night when the hunt for the Stanley Cup officially begins for the team. Most of the faces we know and love (or at least tolerate) will be on the ice when Chicago's Western Conference quarterfinal with Minnesota gets underway.
Last year, Brandon Saad came straight from major junior to the Blackhawks' first-round series with Phoenix. The year before, Ben Smith provided some playoff heroics. In the championship season of 2009-10, Bryan Bickell broke into the lineup and provided production after spending most of his season in Rockford.
A host of players were called up to the unlimited playoff roster last week. However, most of those skaters will merely be practicing with the team.
Could one of the black aces take part in a playoff game? Here are some of the likelier options.
Smith had a big overtime goal two springs ago against Vancouver and three goals in that series as a whole. He is just the type of grinder that coach Joel Quenneville likes to have on the ice.
The lone Chicago goal in Saturday night's 3-1 loss to St. Louis came off Smith's stick. He took a feed from Jeremy Morin and sent a laser over the shoulder of Brian Elliott in the third period.
Smith could well have been a regular earlier this season if not for an injury suffered just before the lockout. As it is, he could prove valuable on the fourth line as a player who can make things happen.
Morin could factor into the lineup in several places. He could provide scoring punch on a lower line or fill in for a top-six player in case of injury.
Let's pretend Quenneville stuns us and slides Patrick Sharp into the middle of the second line until Dave Bolland is ready to return to the lineup. I wouldn't mind seeing Morin taking a position on the wing opposite Patrick Kane.
Morin was highly regarded two seasons ago in a short stint with the Blackhawks. He is a much-improved player since then and could be a difference-maker with some steady minutes.
The guy led the AHL in scoring, but hasn't gotten a real shot at proving himself worthy of second-line minutes at the next level. It's hard to think he'll get that chance in the playoffs, but stranger things have happened.
I think we will see Smith or Morin along with Jimmy Hayes (who won't be quite the surprise in that he played in the Phoenix series a year ago and spent a stretch with the 'Hawks this season) before we see Pirri on the ice.
He is capable of getting the puck to Sharp and Kane on the second line if Chicago decides to give him an opportunity.
I have to be honest here. I had Carter Hutton all ready to insert into this slide. After all, he got the start Saturday night in St. Louis and Ray Emery is still hurt.
Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com reports that Emery, along with Dave Bolland, will not be active for Game 1 Tuesday. Corey Crawford will be backed up by Karlsson rather than Hutton.
Here's my take: Hutton was the better of the two Rockford goalies down the stretch. Karlsson gave up three goals in a little over 20 minutes in the IceHogs' season finale in Texas last week.
Hutton gave up three goals to the Blues Saturday and it's possible that Quenneville doesn't have confidence in a 27-year-old goalie with one pro start on his resume.
Karlsson has the NHL experience and perhaps that's why he's backing up Crow Tuesday night.
Stanton played a pretty heady game on Saturday night. He isn't a flashy player and the depth Chicago has displayed on defense probably nixes an appearance by Stanton in the playoffs.
Sheldon Brookbank took a puck off the knee against the Blues. Even if that kept him out of action, Chicago has a full complement of blue-line veterans. Steve Montador is also up with the team and probably gets the call if an extra defenseman is needed.
Still, Stanton is a steady defender and could hold down a bottom pairing if injuries occurred.
Outside of Hutton, any other black ace is likely going to be strictly a practice player. Hopefully, there are no injuries that necessitate any major surprises.
Most of the other call-ups are too inexperienced to be counted on in the high-pressure atmosphere of the Stanley Cup playoffs. However, seeing Smith, Morin or Pirri come out of the tunnel wouldn't come as a total shock.