CHICAGO | Almost to a man, the Blackhawks were at a loss for words Friday on how to raise their game above the defensively-stifling level of Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Of course, talk is cheap. Deeds are the bottom line. And a focus of attention in the locker room after practice was the three-dimensional manner in which the Hawks will try to get into the Wings’ heads and keep them off the scoreboard.
Dave Bolland is back and fit for duty. Coming back from a groin injury Wednesday when the Western Conference semifinals opened here, third-line center Bolland is in his element in the postseason.
Nicknamed “The Rat,” the 2010 Stanley Cup championship veteran specializes in checking — and getting under their skins with his pesky style — opponents’ top lines as the playoffs progress.
The timing of Bolland’s return is perfect, given the emotionalism of the first playoff series against the arch rival Wings since the conference finals in 2009. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville expects a bigger challenge from the Wings today after they’ve had a chance to shake jet lag out of the systems following their grueling quarterfinals victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
“We expect a harder game,” Quenneville said. “I’m sure it’s going to be more physical.”
Finding his legs on ice in Game 1 after a long layoff, Bolland knows the drill, this time against Wings stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Dastyuk and their lines.
“That first period is always the worst…(dealing with) the speed and how the puck moves,” Bolland said. “It’s a little different from practice. Just get back on the bike.”
Quenneville expected Bolland, one of his favorites, to handle his return instinctively.
“I liked his game,” he said. “Come playoff time, ‘Bolly’ elevates his game. He leaves it out there. He has that grittiness, that sandpaperness.”
If Bolland ever need an extra edge in springtime, he has it facing the Wings.
“It’s a little bit more when you play the Red Wings,” he said. “They’re not too far away. It’s always a battle against them. They’re a good team with good players. We can’t take them lightly.”
Bolland will have personal motivation to make up for a sub-par season. Shifted to second-line center at the start of the regular season, he did not produce much offensively with just 14 points. He was an uncharacteristic minus-7.
Bolland also was asked to comment on Quenneville’s style after being named a finalist Friday for the Jack Adams coaching award with the Ducks’ Bruce Boudreau and Ottawa Senators Paul MacLean.
“He’s a teddy bear,” he said, breaking up the locker room.
Minutes later, Quenneville was informed of Bolland’s description. He was at a loss for words like he was discussing an injury or Viktor Stalberg’s status.
“I haven’t been called that before,” a grinning Quenneville said. “It’s tough to comment on that.”
More laughs erupted. The mood is less heavy when the Bollands of the world are back on the ice.