2010 Stanley Cup finals: Dave Bolland's 'checking line' makes a huge impact for Chicago

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bollandshg.jpgThe 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.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson