CHICAGO – While Los Angeles and Anaheim settle their second-round series with a Game 7 showdown, the Chicago Blackhawks are resting and looking for ways they can play even better in the Western Conference final.
The Blackhawks practiced Thursday without ailing centre Andrew Shaw, but Brandon Bollig skated on the fourth line after he was suspended for the final two games of their second-round series against Minnesota. Shaw left Game 1 against the Wild with an apparent right leg injury, but he could return in Chicago’s next series.
“We expect to have him back on the ice this weekend and we’ll get a better determination of when he’ll play,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks missed Shaw’s net-front presence and pesky style in their six-game victory over Minnesota. The diminutive forward, listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, has two goals and two assists in the playoffs after he set career highs with 20 goals and 19 assists in the regular season.
“He emphasizes his game being gritty and getting to the net and we need more of that,” forward Bryan Bickell said. “And I know last series was, we needed a lot of it to be successful and come the next series, when he does come back, I know he’ll bring it and that’s what you need out of him.”
Bollig was suspended by the NHL for boarding Minnesota defenceman Keith Ballard in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal. It was a rough series for Bollig, who had played in every game this season for the Blackhawks until he was a healthy scratch for Game 2 against the Wild. For Thursday’s practice, he was reunited with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith in a line combination that was very successful for the Blackhawks during the season.
“I’ve sure missed it,” Bollig said. “Obviously we played together a good portion of the season and we had a nice roll there where we kind of found our niche together. So the fact that we were out there together today and hopefully it stays that way for the game and that’s what gets us good quality minutes and playing a quality role.”
Bollig’s role in the next series likely depends on Chicago’s opponent.
The Kings and Ducks close out the second round when they play Friday night in Anaheim. The Western Conference final begins Sunday. The Blackhawks will have home-ice advantage if Los Angeles advances, and will open on the road if top-seeded Anaheim moves on.
“They’re both physical. They both got a lot of skill,” forward Brandon Saad said. “There’s a lot of similarities in a lot of teams in the NHL these days, play that tight checking game. We’re not going to prepare for anyone yet obviously. We don’t know who we’re playing. We’re looking forward to see how Friday goes.”
The Blackhawks will have a tough travel schedule for Game 1 if the Ducks win, but Quenneville pointed out how they got to stay in the Midwest for the first two rounds.
Chicago beat St. Louis and Minnesota in six games apiece to make it to the conference final for the fourth time in six seasons. But it played four overtime games against the Blues, and the Wild frustrated the Blackhawks at times with their speed and checking ability.
While the Blackhawks all think they can play better than they have so far this post-season, they like where they are as they try for a third Stanley Cup title in five seasons.
“I don’t think we’re worried about anything right now,” said Patrick Kane, who had the winning score in the series-clinching 2-1 victory at Minnesota. “We’re in a pretty good position that not a lot of teams to go through. We’re in a conference final and it’s going to be a great matchup whoever we face, so there’s no real cause for concern and we feel our best game’s ahead of us. So, it’s exciting.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap