Brandon Bollig was probably as happy as anyone when he was reunited with Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger.
The fourth-line winger, who struggled in performance and minutes when that line was altered, said he’s already feeling better about his outings.
“I know as soon as we start the game together that, for whatever reason, I will have a better game,” he said. “It’s just the way we play. Those two are easy to play with and predictable, in a good way.”
There’s something to be said for predictability and familiarity, especially at this time of the postseason. The Blackhawks were reminded of that in Game 1, as the Bollig-Kruger-Smith combo was back to playing solid minutes at both ends of the ice in the team’s 3-1 victory over Los Angeles.
Coach Joel Quenneville liked what the three brought once again.
“It’s been a long time since they’ve been together and it looked like (it did) for most of the season, where they’re effective in the defensive zone. But I still think they had some offensive zone shifts; they had puck possession, they had some physical shifts as well,” he said. “But it looked like the band was back together as far as that group goes.”
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Bollig struggled through the first two series, especially against the Minnesota Wild. He was suspended two games for his hit on Keith Ballard, was playing minimal minutes and was a healthy scratch a time or two. In Game 1 vs. Los Angeles he drew a penalty that led to the Blackhawks’ power-play goal.
The combination, however, seems to bring out the best in all three of them. Smith has bounced around the lineup some but agrees there’s a comfort to playing with Bollig and Kruger.
“You get confidence in that role and try to do that role to a tee,” Smith said. “Obviously you want to play more, want to be playing a lot of minutes. But it’s one of those things where you want to help the team however you can. There’s definitely some comfort in our playing four or five months together.”
The Blackhawks struggled to find their familiar four-line rotation through the Minnesota Wild series, in part because Andrew Shaw was out with a right-leg injury. Peter Regin was installed to bring stability to the third line; and with that problem solved, it was time to get back to what worked on that fourth line for most of the regular season.
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The trio took it from there.
“Especially in the playoffs, you need everyone playing the role they’re given. That’s what we all accept during the year and it’s more on the edge during the playoffs, it gets more important,” Kruger said. “We all know what to expect from our lines; there’s nothing new.”
Familiarity breeds confidence. The Blackhawks have confidence in the Bollig-Kruger-Smith group, and the three have it in each other. The band is back together, and it’s hitting all the right chords.
“We've played a lot together and I think we could be predictable for each other, know where each other is and support each other,” Smith said. “It’s nice to always be back with guys you’re familiar with and be productive any way you can.”