|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2010||[Print without images]|
CHICAGO -- Dave Bolland sat down in his stall as the media horde descended upon him. Captain Jonathan Toews blurted out, "Time for the Rat."
"No, Greyhound," retorted Bolland.
"Rat," smirked Toews.
"Greyhound," Bolland muttered under his breath as the media onslaught began.
Listen, when you have big game after big game in these playoffs like Bolland has, you're allowed to decide your own nickname. So "Greyhound" it is.
The San Jose Sharks might have another word or two for him, none of which we can post in this story. Who knew such a skinny boy from Toronto could be such a focal point for the other team?
Bolland's breakaway goal 13:05 into the third period Friday night was a beauty, as his forehand deke eluded Evgeni Nabokov. His play in overtime was pure clutch, as he dug the puck out from behind the net and fed a wide-open Dustin "Big Poppa" Byfuglien for the winner 12:24 into the fourth period.
A dagger for the Sharks, party time for the Hawks. A 3-2 win, a 3-0 series lead, one win away from the Stanley Cup finals.
"It was great, getting that goal and assisting on Big Buff," said Bolland, who centers the checking line between Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg. "I was ecstatic hearing this building erupt. It was crazy out there."
On the winner, Bolland saw Byfuglien, who had just come off the bench, streaking down the middle with no Shark around.
"I just saw from the side of my eye that everyone was coming down, and nobody can miss Buff," said Bolland.
Well, nobody except for the five Sharks on the ice who all managed to do so.
"I saw him rushing down the middle. I think Nabokov never saw it coming," said Bolland. "It was great to see Buff come in there and bury it with cheese, as well."
Make that seven goals in these playoffs for Mr. Byfuglien, whose sensational postseason continues. Forget "Big Buff" or "Big Poppa," this guy is "Mr. May." And right now, Mr. May is beloved in Chicago. He got an ovation after Friday night's overtime goal he'll never forget.
"You know, it's something that I'll definitely remember, I'm guessing," said Byfuglien. "... I am really confident right now. You know, playing with [Patrick] Kane and Toews, they make it a little easier, too."
Let's not forget the work of Antti Niemi on Friday. The goalie's second 44-save performance of the series has him oozing with confidence, which is about the greatest development of the season for the Blackhawks, a team that began 2009-10 with Cristobal Huet as its starter.
"I'm getting more and more confident, and more and more patient," said Niemi.
We asked the rookie Finnish netminder if he thought he was getting in the heads of Sharks players. "I hope so," he smiled.
Of all the players the Sharks' coaching staff was worried the most about coming into this series, Niemi didn't rank among the top five, maybe not the top 10. And yet, we're not sure the Blackhawks win Game 1 or Game 3 without their rookie goalie.
"Well, we were fortunate tonight," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whose team was outshot 46-38. "I thought our goalie, you can use any adjective, but the best superlative to describe his performance tonight, great or spectacular, was deserving. I think we rode on that, particularly even in overtime."
Truthfully, the Sharks don't deserve to be down 3-0 in this series. Game 1 was a toss-up, and Game 3 was theirs to lose. But they're down 3-0 and their season is on the verge of being over.
"There's really nothing else we can do," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. "I was really happy with the way our team played, to a man, whether it was from goaltender, D-men, forwards. We made a few mistakes. They scored some goals. I thought it was a hell of a game."
It just so happens the Sharks have a fresh piece of evidence to motivate themselves. Forget the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders. The 2010 Philadelphia Flyers erased a 3-0 series deficit last round versus Boston. From McLellan to the players in the visitors' dressing room, they all had the Flyers' comeback on the tips of their tongues after Friday's crushing loss.
"I think it just happened last round. It's not impossible," said Sharks forward Patrick Marleau. "We can try to feed off that. I'm pretty sure they took it one game at a time and we will too."
For once, it won't be Marleau taking the blame if the Sharks drop this series. His two goals Friday night gave him four consecutive tallies in the series, and he and fellow playoff whipping boy Joe Thornton are playing their butts off in this series.
"You know, I've had the pleasure of seeing Patty play now for 200-odd games ... and that's as good as I've seen him play," said McLellan. "Determined, committed, working real hard all over the rink. Real proud of him. He needs to bring it again."
He may bring it again, but so will Bolland, Byfuglien, Toews, Kane, Niemi, Sharp ...
These 2010 Blackhawks are proving to be too much to handle. For anyone.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.