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Flyers calling on hot line

PHILADELPHIA — The line currently torching the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals was, not too long ago, cinders.

From Jan. 23 to March 3, Ville Leino didn't play a game. Scott Hartnell's hair follicles offered more production than his blade. And in terms of full-season output, Danny Briere was at levels not seen since his rookie season. So Flyers coach Peter Laviolette concocted this grouping late in the season because, well, he had to.

"When he put us together, there were so many injuries that that's what was left, I guess," Briere said Thursday. "Ville had been a scratch. I had played wing for most of the year. Scotty had a lot of struggles.

"So three guys were searching for themselves at that point. But sometimes chemistry is a weird thing, something you can't really explain. We started playing together, and it just clicked right away."

Similarly unknown is what the Hawks will do about it in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals Friday. In the last three games of the Eastern Conference finals, the Briere-Leino-Hartnell line combined for one point. In the first three games of the Cup finals, they have produced 14 points and one giant problem for the Hawks.

"They're playing really loose," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Things are clicking for them. We just need to be a little more aware."

Though home ice and last change allowed the Flyers to create some different looks in Game 3, generally the Hawks have dispatched Toews' line and a defensive pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and either Brian Campbell or Brent Sopel to deal with Briere's crew.

The results have been mercurial, with Briere's line accounting for no points in Game 2 but filling the scoresheet the other two nights. Reassigning Dave Bolland's checking line to stop Briere's group — and risking an explosion by Mike Richards' power line — might be shortsighted. So what's a club to do?

"Matchups kind of change as you go along in the course of the games and the course of a series," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "One line gets a little hotter. Maybe you get away from that, and (another) line might get hot. Sometimes it's a give-and-take."

Possible translation: With a 2-1 series lead, the situation doesn't yet require a strategic overhaul, just better play from the lines and defensive combos facing Briere, et al.

"Sometimes … pucks will pop loose and land on your stick and things will bounce your way," Toews said. "That seems to be what's happening for that line."

bchamilton@tribune.com

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