CHICAGO — Dave Bolland has turned into a real bother for the San Jose Sharks.
The pesky Blackhawks centre has been making it difficult for San Jose’s top line, helping Chicago to a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference finals matchup with Game 3 on Friday night. Star centre Joe Thornton slashed Bolland in frustration before a faceoff in Game 2 and the two got tangled up earlier in the game.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is expected to match the line of Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd against Thornton’s line, which has also included Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley.
Whatever Quenneville and the Blackhawks are doing is working: San Jose, the top seed in the West, has only three goals so far in the series.
Coach Todd McLellan acknowledged Thursday he night do some mixing and shifting of his own to try and get the Sharks’ offence untracked. It could still come down to finding a way to solve the Blackhawks’ checking line led by Bolland.
“Joel is very good at it. He has a ton of trust and belief in the Bolland line,” McLellan said. “I don’t think that’s going to change here at all in Chicago. In fact, it will probably be easier for them now because of last change.
“But the simple fact is, if our big line ends up on the ice against those three, they have to find a way to outplay them. There’s nothing that we can continually do to get away from it. They’re going to be up against them. At the end of the night, they have to find a way to be productive.”
Bolland was also a pain for the Canucks and the Sedin twins in the second round, and he scored a key short-handed goal on a breakaway in the clincher against Vancouver. But it’s his defence that has helped the Blackhawks get within two wins of their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1992.
“Bollie? I don’t know, he’s always in their face, always seems to be around the puck and in the piles. He just has a knack for doing it,” Ladd said. “He’s very laid back. Nothing really rattles him. He just keeps going, digging and digging.”
Bolland is often reserved off the ice but can be terrier-like on the ice, nipping at the heels and making forward movement difficult. He calls it a privilege to play against a top line and whatever he can do to disrupt is what he’s aiming for.
“When I know I’m in someone’s head, that’s good. I don’t know what I do to get in his head, but it’s fun. It’s good,” Bolland said. “There is a bit of an energy that comes to me when it does happen. …”
Despite the skirmishes in Game 2, the six-foot-four, 230-pound Thornton said Thursday that the six-foot, 181-pound Bolland is not getting under his skin.
“I don’t find him very irritating,” he said. “I think the biggest thing with him, he’s got so much offensive ability, but he plays really well both ways.”
Bolland was limited to 39 games in the regular season after surgery in November to repair a herniated disc in his back. He didn’t return until early February and it took a while to acclimate himself.
“I’ve never been off, in my whole career, for three months, three-and-a-half months,” he said. “To do that and to come back, just to find out my speed, get my strength back and everything. It was tough.”
Now he’s playing his best hockey at the most important time.
“That’s what he’s been doing pretty much the whole playoffs. Saw it against the Sedins and you saw it in the last game against Thornton,” Chicago’s Patrick Kane said.
If the Blackhawks have slowed San Jose’s top line — Marleau had both goals for the Sharks in Game 2 — San Jose’s second line featuring Joe Pavelski has been even quieter. Pavelski has nine goals and six assists entering the series, but his line was scoreless in the first two games.
“We’ve been cold here the last few games. We’ve got to keep getting opportunities. It’s all about the finish now,” Pavelski said. We don’t want to go down 3-0. History tells you that. It will be important to get off to a good start. We got to find a way to win.“