David Bolland woke up the Chicago Blackhawks.
The NHL should take a cue, too.
Bolland’s four-point performance in the Game 4 beatdown of Vancouver shone another spotlight on the shame of all these head shots and concussions in the game.
What if defending Stanley Cup champ Chicago had their shut-down centre before Tuesday night? They’ll never know because Bolland missed 17 straight games after Tampa’s Pavel Kubina needlessly elbowed him in the head way back on March 9.
Kubina sat for three regular-season games for the incident.
Bolland said he never saw himself back in such a magical spot this year.
“I’ve been off a month (with a concussion),” Bolland said after the game. “It takes away a lot of energy. It takes away a lot of everything.”
A year ago, Bolland was the unofficial playoff MVP. He played the big minutes against the opposing top guns, and when Conn Smythe-winning captain Jonathan Toews stopped scoring against Philly in the final, Bolland stepped up.
His absence the first three games washed away a compelling element of this Hawks-Canucks rivalry. And that hurts the league, too.
The longer a high-profile series like Vancouver-Chicago goes on, the better it is for the NHL. No one wants these juicy matchups to be brief, especially on account of key guys being out from preventable hits.
And Bolland’s return coincided with the ultimate head-scratcher over Vancouver’s Raffi Torres going unsuspended for his blindside hit on Chicago stud defenceman Brent Seabrook, who couldn’t play on Tuesday.
Now, the Canucks should be concerned about Bolland’s influence. But it might’ve been much more interesting if they didn’t already have a 3-0 series lead by the time he returned.
On the fly
The quick strike is alive and well. The 'Hawks scored two goals in 17 seconds and the Kings buried an early pair in 13 seconds. Then, Ryan Smyth responded to a Sharks tally 15 seconds later to restore a two-goal lead, and it still wasn’t enough. What the Kings really could’ve used was a Quick save from their goalie Jonathan. Blowing a four-goal lead at home is brutal ... The Calder Trophy candidates for top rookie are San Jose’s Logan Couture, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner and the Islanders’ Michael Grabner. For now, Couture has bragging rights. He’s still playing ... Former NHL ref Dan Marouelli was fine with handing out twin 10-minute misconducts to Chicago’s John Scott and Torres for yapping at a faceoff late in the third. Hockey Night in Canada analyst Mike Milbury thought it was “too proactive” to stop a fight before it happened. It was, any way you spin it, strange. CBC colour commentator Craig Simpson, with a lifetime in hockey, said he's never seen it before. “You want to talk about defusing a bomb,” he said. “This was a preventative measure.” But for those who thought this might be the end of fighting in hockey, it wasn’t. Kevin Bieksa and Viktor Stalberg traded punches on the next shift.
Talking it up
Another rite of spring is upon us: TSN did a pre-game story questioning the offensive production of San Jose’s top line. It only took two games to launch that familiar refrain ... TSN play-by-play guy Gord Miller was on the ball after Willie Mitchell’s early strike, pointing out the Kings’ defenceman’s only other playoff goal was also scored on April 19 — in his rookie season with Minnesota in 2003. Who knew that opening goal would turn out so meaningless? ... Playoff hockey is all about redemption. Hockey Night’s Milbury took a run at 'Hawks defender Duncan Keith for taking a bad penalty against Torres to try to avenge fallen pal Seabook. Ron MacLean suggested Keith was going for “honour over victory” and Milbury indicated if that’s the case, “it’s selfish.” Keith scored a huge goal in the second period. So did fellow 'Hawks defender Brian Campbell, who hit a goal post earlier and had a Canucks goal bounce off him in the first.
Torres didn’t get suspended but he sure took his lumps on social media. The best of the bunch? Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, who tweeted on the Canuck-lehead’s refusal to talk to the media that “maybe if we had our heads down, or had our notepads in our feet, he’d deal with us.” ... And one more thing you gotta love about Logan Couture is his attention to detail, even on his Twitter account. He actually sent out an apology for spelling “shrimp” wrong in an earlier tweet. Can you tell his mom is a teacher?
Not only did Chicago rookie Corey Crawford earn his first career playoff win, he was the only goalie not to get lit up Tuesday. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, the Olympic gold medalist, was yanked. So was San Jose’s Antti Niemi, the Stanley Cup champ. But Crawford’s success has underlined how far former all-star goalie Marty Turco, the 'Hawks’ backup, has fallen in the Windy City. The veteran didn’t get a sniff at the Game 4 crease after Crawford lost the first three with a sub-.900 save percentage. Turco is a veteran of 47 NHL playoff games — nine more than Luongo. But the 'Hawks’ present and future clearly belongs to Crawford.