CHICAGO – Dave Bolland is starting to feel more like himself after coming back from an injury a couple of weeks ago.
That means the Boston Bruins witnessed the return of "The Rat" – the well-earned nickname he's carried through countless battles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs – on Wednesday night at United Center in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Blackhawks outlasted the Bruins 4-3 in a marathon triple-overtime classic in which Bolland played his best overall game of the playoffs. He scored his first goal of the playoffs eight minutes into the third period to cut Boston's lead to 3-2; a key play that came just 1:51 after Patrice Bergeron gave the Bruins a seemingly comfortable two-goal lead on a power play.
More than 60 minutes of game time and nearly three periods of extra hockey later, Bolland tipped a shot by Michal Rozsival that deflected off Andrew Shaw's leg into the net for the game-winner. Just like that, "the Rat" was back.
"Coming back from that injury, you miss two to three weeks and you get left behind a little bit," Bolland said afterward. "I think for myself, my confidence just wasn't where it would be [normally]. Now, it's back to that old hockey I'd been playing."
That "old hockey" includes back-to-back postseasons (2010, 2011) when he hounded the Vancouver Canucks' prolific twins, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, while centering Chicago's third line. In 2010, it helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. In 2011, it nearly helped them overcome a 3-0 deficit against the Canucks in a seven-game first-round loss.
This season saw a change in Bolland's on-ice role. He was bumped up to the second line between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane for the bulk of the 2012-13 campaign and left the third-line "pest" role to rookie Andrew Shaw.
Bolland was slotted into that top-six forward role when he returned during the Western Conference Semifinals, but ultimately moved down to center the fourth line for the rest of that series. He stayed there for all five games of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings but found himself in the more-familiar third-line role to start the Cup Final.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville reworked all four lines preparing to face a deep, gritty Bruins lineup, and putting Bolland with Shaw -- a pair of two-way "pests" -- was evidently part of the plan.
Speedy Viktor Stalberg, who usually plays right wing on that line, was bumped out of the lineup and the new line emerged. It started Game 1 against Boston with rookie Brandon Saad on the left wing, Bolland at center and Shaw at right wing. During the first period, Saad switched places with Sharp, who started the game manning the left wing on Chicago's top line.
Chicago didn't practice Thursday, so there's no telling how they'll line up the next time they skate. But there's probably a good chance the forward lines won't change too much heading into Game 2 Saturday at United Center (8 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"The thing with [Bolland] is you always see him step up in big games," Kane said. "He had a huge goal to make it 3-2 and obviously helped out on the winner too. But we've been accustomed to him showing up in those big games. It was good to see, for sure."
"He's progressively gotten better every game," the coach said. "You can just see him have more pace to his game, steadily getting better."
"He's progressively gotten better every game," he said. "You can just see him have more pace to his game, steadily getting better."