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Bolland keeps a steady hand at the wheel

by Brett Ballantini /
CHICAGO – At this point, not much about this season's Chicago Blackhawks has flown under the radar.
There's the young power duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, fueling the offense. The veteran tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet has excelled between the pipes. The Blackhawks boast superstars reborn (Martin Havlat), veterans emerged (Patrick Sharp), bruisers blossomed (Dustin Byfuglien) and Calder Trophy candidates surfaced (Kris Versteeg). And that's to say nothing of Chicago's stacked defense, from Duncan Keith to Brent Seabrook to Brian Campbell, and now even breakout rookie Niklas Hjalmarsson.
But one of the most consistent and promising stars on the Blackhawks is one who manages to mostly escape attention, center Dave Bolland, who has racked up 47 points and a plus-19 rating in his first full season with the big club. Bolland has followed that up with nine points and a plus-1 in the playoffs.
Like Versteeg, his elder by three weeks, Bolland has an eye for the net, but won't shy from a shoulder jam or a hip check. And like last year's power rooks, the fun-loving Kane and more reserved Toews, this year's young duo can be pigeoned into similar holes — karaoke king Versteeg walks on the wilder side while Bolland, nicknamed "Mr. Serious" by teammates, avoids donning the lampshade.
But personality sketches aside, the sleek 180-pounder is a delicious combination of speed and skill, with a tendency to leave both fans and his own coaches salivating for more. After all, at just 22, Bolland found himself centering Chicago's most effective line for much of the season, setting hopes high that the Hawks may have another perennial All-Star on their hands.
"What 'Bollsy' did, anchoring our No. 3 (line), shutting down (opponents') top lines, he's just been stellar," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Bollsy, 'Ladder' (Andrew Ladd), Havlat, they've been the unsung heroes of the season."
It wasn't just Bolland's final point total and plus/minus rating that impressed, but his balance and consistency. In the 81 games he played this season, Bolland finished a minus just 18 times. Compare that to Havlat, who led all Chicago forwards with a plus-29, yet had 19 minus games of his 81 played. That Bolland turned in such steady play while often being asked to stifle top lines is a remarkable accomplishment.
"I've taken pride in trying to shut opponents down but at the same time, put some points on the board," Bolland said. "With guys flanking me like Martin and Ladd, guys who have just been spectacular all season, it's almost like I can't go wrong."
His boss behind the bench doesn't see it all as a happy accident, however: "He's sharp," Quenneville said. "His decision-making with the puck is uncanny, for such a young player. He's in the right place at the right time, with and without the puck. That may sound like good fortune, but it's a skill."
Quenneville cited Bolland's assist on the game-winning goal in Chicago's momentum-shifting, Game 4 overtime win vs. Vancouver as a prime-time example of the value he has on the team as a "glue" skater.
Chicago Blackhawks Playoff Gear"Bollsy is a heads-up player," Quenneville said. "He's a special player, with regard to tips, screens, deflections. At a time when we'd been playing tentatively and waiting too long for the 'right' shot, Bollsy never lost sight of the fact that we have to get the puck on net."
That's exactly what Bolland did, getting to a loose puck along the boards and launching a shot at Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo that Ladd was able to deflect for the game-winner, breathing renewed life into what's now become a determined run at the Stanley Cup.
"We all do what we can to get wins," Bolland said. "All of us in [the dressing room] are confident we can be the last team standing. It's been a long year, but we feel we're getting stronger with every step."

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