May 31, 2010, 12:40 PM EST
The one thing that separates the Chicago Blackhawks from the rest of the league – aside from that horrible, horrible, horrible “Chelsea Dagger” goal song – is their slap-you-in-the-face depth. Say what you will about Brian Campbell, you’re doing pretty well when he’s (maybe) your third best blueliner. After you get past the Toews and Kanes, there’s the Hossas, Byfugliens and Sharps.
But in Game 1, the team went even deeper down their depth chart to their so-called “checking line” to blow through the Flyers defense in a sloppy but entertaining affair. NHL.com spotlights that dominant Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd/Tomas Kopecky combo.
“You can call them a checking line,” Hawks center Patrick Sharp said, “but they’ve all got the ability to put the puck in the net, and that’s what makes them so dangerous.”
Their skill makes them different. It also makes them effective.
The standout player is Dave Bolland – and not just because he’s been scoring shorthanded goals like hot cakes lately. I have to admit, when the Blackhawks signed Bolland last summer, I thought it was yet another example of the team’s inability to part with a quality (but replaceable) player amid growing salary cap worries. Instead, he’s been one of the team’s most indispensable players, profoundly frustrating the likes of Joe Thornton and Daniel Sedin like few before him with a combination of pest-like behavior and lock-on defense. Mark Spector had a great column on Bolland at Sportsnet.ca.
He not only neutralized Flyers No. 1 centre Mike Richards in Game 1, but Bolland’s shorthanded breakaway goal was part of a two-point, plus-3 night. Richards, in 22:44 of ice time, had no points, just three shots on goal, and was minus-2.
“I just play tough on him. Everyone hates when … you’re always around them, always in their skates, hitting their sticks, doing little things,” Boland said. “A lot of guys hate it. Everyone hates it, really.”
Let’s face it: Everyone hates HIM, really.
If your job is to shut down the opposing team’s star players, it’s usually a good sign if they hate you. That means you are impeding – perhaps closing down – their game and possibly getting in their head. Frustration leads to penalties, turnovers and maybe even glory.
The checkers might not get many Conn Smythe votes, but the Blackhawks aren’t winning the Cup on the strength of Jonathan Toews and other stars alone. Their supporting role players have made a big impact in every series … even when they’re not enraging Swedish ginger twins.
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