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Bolland re-establishes himself as playoff performer

by Corey Masisak / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

Spend a couple of days with Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and it quickly becomes evident he has a few favorite phrases when discussing his players.

One of them is "predictability in his game." It's another way of saying a player offers consistent effort and is reliable. It also perfectly describes the play of Blackhawks center Dave Bolland.

Quenneville found out Friday that Bolland might not always be so predictable off the ice. Asked about his coach, who was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the League's best, Bolland called Quenneville "a big teddy bear."

"Really? A teddy bear?" Quenneville said after a hearty chuckle. "I hadn't been called that one before. That's surprising. Pretty tough to comment on that one."

Bolland returned to the Blackhawks lineup in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals after missing the final three games of the regular season and the opening round against the Minnesota Wild with a groin injury. He skated on the third line and logged 11:36 of ice time, easily the least he's played in 50 career Stanley Cup Playoff games for Chicago.

Still, the guy who has earned a reputation as a "playoff player" was noticeable in his brief appearances.

"I liked his game," Quenneville said. "He hadn't played in a while, and [Bolland] coming off a couple injuries this year and missed some time, but one thing you know with him is come playoff time, [Bolland] seems to elevate his game.

"The predictability, how he's he going to be competing -- he leaves it out there. He's got that grittiness, that sandpaper that you appreciate and you notice. His thinking and how he plays the game, he puts himself in the right spots both offensively and defensively. He's got those instincts and they seem to elevated come playoff time."

Bolland said, "Just getting back on my own two feet. Once you get back in the game, the first period is always the worst. The speed [after] being out for two-and-a-half weeks, it's a little different than just in practice. It's sort of just getting back on the old bike."

Bolland has been a proven performer in the playoffs for the Blackhawks for his entire career. He's gained plenty of notoriety for being a physical two-way forward who has frustrated elite centers Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton.

But statistics also show how Bolland has found another level in the postseason. He has averaged 0.51 points per game in his 332 career regular-season games, but he has 37 points in 50 playoff games (0.74 per contest).

He had eight goals and 16 points in 22 games when the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010. When he missed the first three games of Chicago's first-round series with the Vancouver Canucks a year later, the team fell into a 3-0 hole. He returned and scored six points in four games to help the Blackhawks nearly pull off a miracle comeback before falling in Game 7.

"Playoffs and the regular season are way different," Bolland said. "You think it's just moving on to another game but it's actually just a whole new season. There's a little extra jabs, a little extra everything in the playoffs. It was different coming back but I'm glad I'm back."

Bolland had a great chance to further his playoff legacy in Game 1 against the Red Wings. He collected a loose puck near the benches and skated in alone on goaltender Jimmy Howard. He then tried something of an unpredictable move, deking then attempting to stuff the puck inside the right post, but Howard was able to stretch his skate out to deny him.

"From last year, when me, [Andrew Shaw] and [Bolland] played together, it felt like the old days," Bryan Bickell said of the third line's reunion. "We had some good chances. I know [Bolland] had that breakaway. We felt good and we felt like we got our chemistry back and hopefully we can just keep this going."

Bolland spent a lot time on the team's second line this season before the groin injury. He returned to a place on the third unit, but it is possible he'll be back with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp at some point.

There were two areas Bolland had little trouble fitting right back in -- at the faceoff circle and in the post-whistle scrums. Bolland won seven of 11 faceoffs and spent four minutes in the penalty box after a skirmish with Detroit's noted pest, Justin Abdelkader.

"He got me a little in the groin area," Bolland said. "Not a good area to get someone. But things like that happen. It's the playoffs. That's the way things go. It's part of the game."

Bickell said, "I don't know what that [was about] with Abdelkader, but it shows that he's here for the team. I know Abdelkader had some good hits and [Bolland] had a good hit on him and it got him all fired up. He shows that he wants to be here and is willing to do what it takes to win."

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