Bolland having a blast
Formerly a scorer, the checking-line center is embracing his defense-first role
CHICAGO -- He was the guy lauded for being a pest, for getting under the skin of the feared Sedin twins in the Blackhawks' second-round series against Vancouver, and for annoying Joe Thornton in the first two games against San Jose.
But ask Dave Bolland if it's more fun scoring goals or shutting down the opponents' top line, and he is not so far removed from his days as an offensive star in junior hockey that he has forgotten what it feels like to be the hero.
"It's more fun scoring goals and it's a lot easier too," said Bolland.
Friday night's contest must have been a blast for Bolland.
He scored a go-ahead goal on a breakaway in the third period, then set up Dustin Byfuglien for the winner in overtime of the Hawks' 3-2 victory over the Sharks on Thursday night, putting them one win shy of the Stanley Cup finals.
It was a bit of redemption for Bolland after committing three penalties on the night, though he didn't necessarily see it that way. Just like he wasn't ready to forget what fun it is to be one of the top checking centers in the postseason.
"Shutting down the top line and playing against the top players in the NHL, for me, I'm ecstatic to have that accomplishment," Bolland said.
When Bolland got off the plane from San Jose on Wednesday, you half-expected his left hand to be casted after the vicious slash he took from Thornton prior to a faceoff in the third period of the Hawks' Game 2 victory.
But Bolland shrugged off the penalty that sent a frustrated Thornton to the penalty box, continuing to play that night and refusing to give it even a second thought the next day.
"If it helps the team, right?" he said.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old third-line center was a points man, er, kid, as a junior in London, Ontario, skills that led to him being the Hawks' second-round pick in the 2004 draft. But he took the transition to a member of the Hawks' checking line with Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg in stride, making it look natural.
The little rat was not feeling so helpful, however. He found himself in the penalty box for goalie interference in the first period, for holding in the second period -- which led to a five-on-three goal (with Marian Hossa also in the box) and a 1-0 Sharks lead -- and again for tripping in the third.
"I was a little anxious, sort of saying to myself, 'I have to do something, I have to come out with a burst of speed,'" Bolland said of his final penalty. "And from sitting in the box for two minutes, I knew I had a lot of energy left."
"It was a pretty big rush," Bolland said.
But no bigger than the one that has him playing at all this season, let alone logging 23 minutes in Friday's game, second only (by just 37 seconds) to Toews among the Hawks' offensive players.
"When I was going through rehab, I was thinking, 'I can't wait to get back to this game. It sucks being out, it sucks sitting around and doing nothing for three months, just laying on my back watching TV,'" Bolland easily recalled of the three months missed this regular season following back surgery in November. "I was sick of seeing these trainers, so it's good to be back."
His teammates are still impressed.
"Anytime you're hurt for as long as he's been during the season, it's tough to come back and jump right back in," said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith. "I think he'd be first to admit it took him a while to get going again. Now it seems like in the playoffs, he's been able to pick his game up to wherever we need it, and we're going to need him to keep doing that."
Always the pest, Bolland no doubt annoyed the Sharks more than ever with his final act Friday night, dishing the puck from behind the net to Byfuglien in the slot for the winner.
"As Buff said, it's hard to miss him, so I got it to him and he knew where to put it," said Bolland in typical downplay mode.
"All I had to do was finish," Byfuglien agreed.
They had to admit it was fun.
"Coming to the NHL, it wasn't my job to put up points," Bolland said. "But I'm still trying to."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.