CHICAGO – After center Dave Bolland’s performance in the Blackhawks’ 7-2 win Tuesday at the United Center, it was hard not to wonder “what if?”
What if Bolland had been ready to go when this best-of-seven series began last week in Vancouver, or even in Game 3, instead of in Game 4 with the Hawks already trailing, three games to none?
“I don’t know what it is. It’s always fun playing against [the Canucks,]” said Bolland, who had been sidelined since a cheap-shot elbow to the head left him with a concussion March 9. “For me, it’s fun. They’re intense. I want to play these games.”
For Hawks fans, the feeling is mutual.
Heading into Tuesday’s game, the series had been closer than the Canucks’ three-games-to-none advantage suggested. But Vancouver had a pair of one-goal wins, and seemed to be charging into the next round.
Bolland helped stem that tide, scoring a goal and three assists and providing the spark that made the Hawks’ offense explode for seven goals.
The Hawks were alive from the start in this one, and unlike the way they faded in Game 3, this time they sustained it.
For the first time in this series, it was the Hawks creating and converting opportunities off the break, and putting shots into the net rather than just off the post.
Bolland created offense for the Hawks from the start, setting up linemate Bryan Bickell for a goal 1:43 into the game.
Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo allowed six goals – one each by Bolland and linemates Bickell and Michael Frolik– before being lifted in the third period as the crowd taunted him by howling “Luuuu!”
After the game, Luongo said he saw the puck fine, he felt fine, everything was fine. He didn’t seem all that impressed by Bolland’s goal and three assists in his triumphant return.
“Obviously he helped them out tonight,” Luongo said, “but that’s not a guy that’s going to change the series.”
Luongo might be right. This series probably is too far gone to completely alter its course.
Although players such as Marian Hossa and Troy Brouwer seem to disappear in the postseason, Bolland raises his game in April.
“He’s a competitive guy and he welcomes all challenges,” Hawks’ coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. “And we found out [Tuesday] what type of character he is.”
Unfortunately for the Hawks, wins in one game of a series rarely carry over to the next. The Canucks are a good team and likely will recover for Game 5 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Thurday.
If nothing else, though, the Hawks and Bolland exceeded expectations on Tuesday.
Many of the 21,757 fans at the United Center fans who showed up probably expected to see the defending Stanley Cup champions swept out of the playoffs.
Instead, they got one more night of good feeling out of the season. Even if the Canucks win Thursday, at least the Hawks’ Game 4 performance was befitting the championship banner hanging from the United Center rafters.
The Hawks showed they had fight – literally. They scored at will. They staved off a sweep.
Will it last? Probably not long. The Hawks could get another win, maybe even two this series, but they’re 0-17 in series when they’ve trailed, 3-0, for a reason.
“We’re just happy to have the momentum,” Quenneville said. “We thought there was no pressure going into tonight’s game, and that’s not going to change.”
Game 5 on Thursday will show whether Luongo is right about Bolland’s return being no big deal.
If the Hawks win another game this season, we might really find ourselves asking “what if?”
• Eric Olson is the Northwest Herald’s sports editor. Reach him at 815-526-4554, or email email@example.com.