Sometime next season, given a full year of good health, Dave Bolland has the promise of being an elite NHL center, second on the Blackhawks to Jonathan Toews.
In Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Tuesday, Bolland gave a sneak preview. It's probably too little, too late to help the Hawks, down in a monstrous 3-1 hole against the Canucks with two possible games in Vancouver looming. But Bolland's nearly one-man-gang show was a role model to all his teammates, who had a certain lack of grit and timing in the first three games, and literally to any athlete in any sport finding himself in a jam.
It's possible to fight your way out of a jam, both on the scoreboard and with your body. After missing six weeks due to post-concussion syndrome, Bolland played with clear head and determined mind with four points via a goal and three assists that helped lay the first hurt on Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo in the series.
The fearlessness Bolland displayed had a historical angle. He recovered from his second concussion, the first taking place years ago in the American Hockey League. Bolland had wondered at the time when and how he'd recover. He was fearful of the unknown. Then all the talk about long-term head injuries involving athletes ranging from Dave Duerson to Bob Probert gave him pause, just before Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina elbowed him in the head March 9.
The Hawks are to be commended for not rushing Bolland back a moment too soon. Concussions are being taken seriously in sports, even if the NHL is too slow to enact prohibitions against head hits. Chicago was in desperate straits almost from the opening tip in Game 1 against the Canucks. Could Bolland have made a difference? Sure -- but not at the expense of his long-term health.
Bolland's long-term potential suggests increased scoring punch. In full bloom, he can anchor a powerful second line with the Hawks. The coming off-season will be chock full of questions for the Hawks. One that has been answered is Bolland's presence. The "Rat" is a first-class pest to opposing stars -- and a budding scorer. On a breakaway, he has some of the trickiest dekes any center today possesses.
The Canucks will probably dispose of the Hawks in the next two games, maximum. I had predicted six. But this time, they'll have to work for their quarterfinals triumph. Bolland is in the house.