When the Chicago Blackhawks announced that injured center David Bolland was going to make his first appearance for the 'Hawks in over five weeks, in an elimination game no less, I suggested that we not expect Bolland to come out wearing a cape.
Turned out he had the cape, the tights and, most importantly, the key to the Vancouver Canucks goal.
After being inactive since a concussion suffered March 9th, Bolland was a one-man wrecking crew in Game 4 of the 'Hawks Western Conference quarterfinal with the Canucks. The bane of the Sedins spearheaded a monster effort from his line on the way to a 7-2 Chicago victory.
Vancouver still leads the best-of-seven series three games to one, but for one night the Hawks seemed to catch a jolt of the play that bested Vancouver in last year's playoffs. Chicago hasn't climbed back into the series yet, but they have earned a trip to Western Canada with the chance to claw their way a little closer.
All of a sudden, 'Hawks fans have a shred of hope to cling to, while fans in Vancouver have to feel at least a twinge of queasiness after Chicago chased Roberto Luongo from the net. Luongo, who had allowed just three even strength goals in the first three games of the series, gave up five in the first two periods on Tuesday night.
I was concerned that Bolland would be a non-factor after the long layoff. Instead, the Rat looked as if he had stepped out of a time machine from last May's playoff run.
Bolland made his presence felt 1:43 into the contest, getting the puck moving to Michael Frolik, who found Bryan Bickell along the boards. Bickell, who was returning from an injury suffered in Game 2, swooped across the front of the net and slipped the puck past Luongo for a 1-0 'Hawks lead.
Great return for Bolland, huh? Wait...there's more.
Bolland had an assist on Duncan Keith's goal that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Two-point night for Bolland, terrific. Wait...there's more.
Bolland took a pass from Frolik, who had forced a turnover and fired one past Luongo to make the score 4-1. All hail the Rat. Wait...I think you know what's coming.
As the last minute of the second period loomed, Bolland beat Dan Hamhuis to a loose puck and found Frolik streaking down the ice. The resulting goal gave the Blackhawks a 5-1 lead.
Bolland's return coincided with coach Joel Quenneville's decision to have Patrick Sharp center Marian Hossa and Ben Smith. Meanwhile, Viktor Stalberg moved up to play with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the first line.
The result was that for the first time in this series, the Hawks had three lines that were capable of pressing Vancouver's defense, as well as drawing the Canucks forwards away from their series-long assault on goal.
Bolland also stepped right in to his role of Sedin stopper, playing tough defense all night. Daniel Sedin found the net Tuesday, but it came in garbage time. By then Chicago had rained down six unanswered goals on Luongo and his third-period replacement Corey Schneider.
Bolland's heroics also made the eight pedestrian minutes John Scott spent on defense an afterthought in a blowout victory. Having a six-goal lead in the third allowed Quenneville to run Scott onto the ice in the third period. This lead to 20 penalty minutes for the Murdersaurus, though the referees refused to let Scott choose a dance partner.
Bolland's stunning performance makes one wonder just how this series would have developed had he been in the lineup from the start. It's hard to believe that he could have had as big an impact on the other games as he did in Game 4, but for now the 'Hawks will make the trip to Vancouver with a chance to move one step closer to the Canucks.
Other Game 4 Thoughts
Brian Campbell seemed to bring the puck up the ice more confidently Tuesday, posting an attempt early in the second before scoring on a pretty give and go with Kane to give the 'Hawks the lead for good. The defense allowed just 23 shots on the night.
Despite the fact that Chicago got away with dressing Scott, I hope we don't see it again. The fact that the 'Hawks exploded for five goals and chased Luongo had nothing to do with his presence in the lineup. Inspired play up front and the big lead that play generated allowed the Blackhawks to get away with it.
Ninety minutes of penalties were assessed in the third period. I wonder if the refs will maintain control of Game 5 if the score gets lopsided in favor of either team? The 'Hawks have to confine the hard checking to within their style of play.
If Game 5 becomes a contest of physical one-upmanship, the advantage swings squarely in the Canucks' favor. Don't think they don't know that.
This was a great win for Chicago, but the feeling that it has come one game late nags at me.
Had we turned in this type of blowout in Game 3, I think the necks of the Canucks' sweaters tighten up a little. While I think Vancouver realizes it still has to win one more game to close out the series, they still have three games in which to do that.
With a win in Vancouver Thursday, it might be a different story.
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