Dave Bolland was there in between Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw, a sign that the third-line/second-line/third-line-again center will be ready to go when the Chicago Blackhawks begin their Western Conference semifinal series against… well, we don’t know yet.
And while the Blackhawks tinkered with a few line combinations on Saturday, and took two regular-lineup stalwarts out of the top four lines altogether, it looks like Bolland starting in his old role is very probable.
Bolland was back in his familiar third-line center role, but Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg were more “fifth-line” skaters when the Blackhawks practiced at Johnny’s IceHouse West on Saturday morning. Coach Joel Quenneville said Bolland (groin) and backup goaltender Ray Emery (lower body) will be ready to go for the next round, and they’ll use these next couple of days to get back into the swing of things.
It was surprising to see Saad and Stalberg in the white with red-trim jerseys that have been designated “fifth-line” wear. Quenneville didn’t sound unhappy with their play in the first round, but said both could be better.
“Keep it simple and advance the puck, don’t always feel like you have to make a play. Use your speed, put the puck in areas, and just have some more offensive zone shifts,” Quenneville said of what Saad needs to do moving forward. He said Stalberg’s situation was “kind of comparable.”
Whether or not those two are kept out of the four-line rotation when the second round does start remains to be seen. Saad, a Calder Trophy candidate, had a stellar regular season on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. On Saturday, former postseason hero Ben Smith was in Saad’s top-line spot. Stalberg was solid this season, using his speed in key situations and helping to set up Bryan Bickell’s game-winner in Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild.
Of Saturday’s line mixing, Quenneville said, “a couple of the guys we wanted to have a look-see, and see how it goes.”
With Bolland, however, the Blackhawks know exactly what they get with him as their checking-line center. It’s his forte, there’s no doubt. His transition to the second line wasn’t so good, and his health struggles didn’t matter. So when the puck drops for Game 1, it looks like Bolland will be back on Line 3.
“He could start there,” said Quenneville, in whose answers “could” is as good as a “will.” “We have a lot of options, and you either work your way up or be where you’re at. Those options are for everyone. There’s always opportunity. We’ll likely start him comparable to where he was today, and see where he goes from there.”
For Bolland, just getting back to playing is a thrill. The Blackhawks did some scrimmaging today, and for Bolland it was the first chance in a while to play in a game-type situation. Bolland said he didn’t care where he fit back into the lineup, but there’s no doubt he’s comfortable on that third line.
“That’s where I’ve had most of my success but whatever happens, happens,” he said. “Wherever it is, you have to play your best. But I’ve been successful on that third line. It’s sort of been my thing.”
The Blackhawks may look a little different come the semifinals. How different remains to be seen. For Saad and Stalberg, Saturday’s lines don’t necessarily mean they’re out. But there’s no doubt, at least for starters, where Bolland is going back in.
“We love tough decisions,” Quenneville said. “We’ll visit it over the next few days. We look forward to having him in the lineup and looking at other options.”