Hawks ready to welcome back 'The Rat'

CHICAGO -- If you're wondering what Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland brings to the team as he gets set to make his 2013 postseason debut Wednesday night when the Hawks take on the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals, then you probably haven't watched the Hawks in the playoffs over the years.

Known as "The Rat," Bolland is a pest. The good kind, if you’re a Blackhawks fan. Some players raise their game come spring; Bolland is one of them.

"Bolly usually takes his game to that playoff level of intensity," coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday. "He's been a very effective guy for us in the playoffs or come playoff time."

Bolland has made his reputation in the postseason, starting with the Hawks' Stanley Cup run in 2010. Arguably, he had as good a defensive performance by a forward as any in recent hockey history. In Rounds 2 through 4, he was asked to defend eventual Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, 89-point producer Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks and 31-goal scorer that season Mike Richards. The results?

In 16 games when Bolland played against those three stars, they tallied nine points and were a combined minus-16. Of course Bolland didn't do it by himself, but by anyone's account he pestered them into playing below their abilities. That's as good as it gets.

"He's pretty gritty and kind of chippy in these series, in the playoffs," Patrick Kane said. "He adds offense. He can play on the second, third line, penalty kill, power play, so he does a lot of different things."

The key words there are "adds offense." The reason those star opponents were all minus players is because Bolland's line made them play in their own zone. Offense-minded players hate that. Bolland had nine five-on-five points in those three rounds -- as many as Sedin, Thornton and Richards had all together. But that's where Bolland has been a mystery in the regular season. He has averaged 0.50 points, but that goes up to 0.75 in the playoffs.

The best indication of Bolland's worth came in the 2011 postseason after he sat out the first three games in a series against the Canucks. The Hawks were down 3-0 and playing miserably. Bolland was recovering from a concussion, and no one knew if he could or would play. Down 3-0 in a series isn't exactly the time for a return, but Bolland suited up for Game 4 and was a difference-maker. The Hawks nearly pulled off the unthinkable before losing in overtime of Game 7.

"We missed him in that series and you could feel his contribution when he returned," Quenneville said recently.

But he wasn't missed in the first round against Minnesota this season. The Wild are offensively challenged and the Hawks dismissed them rather easily.

That will change come Wednesday night. Bolland will be needed against the Wings. Expect him to see a lot of All-Star center Pavel Datsyuk. There are few better than Datsyuk, and the last time the two faced each other in the playoffs, in 2009, Bolland was but a pup. Now he's more than ready to handle the Wings star and the matchup should be juicy.

Now Bolland is needed.