If you were playing amateur coach leading up to the Stanley Cup finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins you may have to start over. That's what it sure seems like Hawks coach Joel Quenneville did leading up to Game 1 on Wednesday.
Quenneville broke up all four of his lines that just completed a five-game series win over the Los Angeles Kings. And it looks like forward Viktor Stalberg is headed back to the bench with bulky winger Brandon Bollig returning to the lineup. The moves center around three aspects -- a newly increased role for Dave Bolland, the Bruins' propensity to run over the opposition as much as go around them and keeping all-world Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara away from either Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews.
“It might be one of the reasons,” Quenneville said after Tuesday's practice about the latter issue.
Coaches don’t like to tip their hand regarding their playoff strategy so Quenneville wasn’t saying much more than that. Bruins coach Claude Julien will have to pick who Chara defends. Kane lined up with Michal Handzus and Bryan Bickell on Tuesday while Toews was between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. Mixing and matching the top two lines doesn’t come as a surprise as Quenneville has done it throughout the playoffs.
The biggest eye-opener might be the return of Bolland to a more prominent role. He’s been a fourth-line player since returning from an injury in Round 2 of the postseason but in Game 5, against the Kings, Bolland’s role changed. He was responsible for checking Jeff Carter's line and his minutes increased.
“Yeah a little bit,” Bolland acknowledged. “Things have changed. Just roll with it.”
And then at practice on Tuesday he was centering a line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad on his wing. It would be a shock if that trio wasn’t on the ice every time David Krecji, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic jumped over the boards. The Bruins' top line has been on fire to the tune of 51 points in 16 playoff games.
“Get the cycle game in their end, make them play defense and be physical with them and never turn away a hit,” Shaw said, explaining how to have success. “Hopefully we can do a great thing against them.”
For Bolland, it’s been another up-and-down season in the injury department. He injured his leg late in the year and couldn’t compete in Round 1. When he returned he wasn’t as sharp as he’d like and found himself on the fourth line playing less than 10 minutes some nights. He knows he struggled.
“I think probably I did,” Bolland said. “I don’t think my confidence was as high as I probably wanted it to be. You have to overcome now.”
Even before the overtime periods on Saturday Bolland played nearly 15 minutes, more than any other game in the series. He may get even more playing time Wednesday considering how often Krejci and company will be on the ice. Bolland doesn’t know much about the trio of forwards, though he’ll learn quickly.
“You see them here and there,” he said. “For myself I try not to watch as much hockey and zone in on my own and what I need to do. But they are good players and you have to be aware of them on the ice.”
Bollig skating on a regular line while Stalberg is on the outside looking in created another Twitter frenzy as the Hawks practiced on Tuesday. It’s a somewhat curious move as Stalberg can still create chances, but no team in the league might be nastier or edgier than the Bruins and Bollig’s 4-6 minutes on the ice might be needed just to “run” a few guys. Maybe even Chara. But remember, just like the Detroit series, nothing is necessarily permanent. Stalberg could be in and Bollig out by Game 2.
No matter what, one storyline will be that top line of Boston. A veteran in Bolland and two youngsters in Shaw and Saad will be on center stage, responsible for shutting that line down.
“I would love that,” Shaw said. “That’s the blue collar in me. Work as hard as you can, you may not be rewarded offensively, but play great defensively and I think it will be great.”
Otherwise Quenneville will just start all over again.