The Chicago Blackhawks begin the second round of the playoffs Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Fans on both sides of the rivalry are anticipating a great Western Conference semifinal series.
Game 1 is going to be a team effort for whichever team comes out on top. However, there are some individuals worth taking a more detailed look at as the series begins. Here are five players to follow on the ice as the opener approaches.
The Rat returns to action after missing the last three games of the regular season and all of the first round of the postseason with a groin injury.
Jessie Rogers reported on ESPNChicago.com on the impact he feels Bolland can make on this series. This would not be the first time an injured Bolland came back and provided a boost to the 'Hawks in the playoffs.
If he's 100 percent, Bolland could be an X-factor despite an underwhelming regular season in which he failed to make the jump to second-line center. The question is, where does coach Joel Quenneville line him up?
Is Bolland going to be able to get into the swing of things right away and be the mythological playoff stopper he's been made out to be? This may turn out to be the biggest question of this series.
For reasons known only to Joel Quenneville, Stalberg is apparently on the outs following the Minnesota series. Whether he's truly in the doghouse or just a convenient whipping boy, Quenneville has removed Youngblood from a regular forward line in practice this week.
ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers posted on what is looking like the possibility that Stalberg is a healthy scratch for Game 1 and quoted Quennville on how the lineup might look Wednesday night:
They'll all know where they stand. We'll address the situation when the time is right. Stay ready. Nobody said he (Stalberg)'s out of the lineup. Keep yourself [ready], make decisions tough on us.
I just don't get this. If Quenneville wants to send a message, he can come out and say Stalberg's out of the lineup. Or pick a player who doesn't match up as well with the Red Wings to play a head game with. Stalberg doesn't deserve to be messed with. He's had a solid season and has the speed to take it to Detroit.
The 'Hawks are streaming their morning skate on the team website, which could provide a peek at Quenneville's hand. Otherwise, we'll have to wait until Wednesday night to see where Stalberg fits into the Game 1 plan, if at all.
Toews has just been announced as a Selke Trophy finalist. He's going up against one of the three nominees for the award going out to the league's top defensive forward, Pavel Datsyuk.
The top lines of the 'Hawks and Red Wings are very evenly matched. How much Toews actually skates in direct competition with Datsyuk may depend on where Bolland is slotted and whether Joel Quenneville elects to throw a real checking line at Detroit's top line.
Toews, of course, is the key to the faceoff battle in this series, as he is by far the best Chicago has to offer at the dot. Gaining possession of the puck is going to be huge, and I'm sure Toews and Datsyuk will be eye-to-eye on a lot of draws over the next several days.
Oh, by the way, Toews and Patrick Kane both were snubbed for the Hart Trophy last week. Is the captain preparing to make a statement on this with his play on the ice? Stay tuned.
Seabrook can make Chicago's advantage on the back end even more pronounced by stepping up against the Red Wings.
The power play could stand a boost from the big defenseman as well. Since being paired with Nick Leddy and not Duncan Keith, Seabrook has had some less-than-dominant moments. The Blackhawks need him to be at his best against Detroit.
Brandon Bollig could find himself back in the lineup Wednesday. Joel Quenneville could elect to send Daniel Carcillo on the fourth line. Maybe Ben Smith gets his shot.
How Quennville elects to employ his final skater could weigh heavily on Game 1. Whoever gets the chance will attempt to make their mark Wednesday night.