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mb financial Features

Hawks' checkers defy traditional description

Sunday, 05.30.2010 / 10:56 PM / Features
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com senior writer
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Hawks\' checkers defy traditional description
Sure, the Blackhawks\' checkers can shut down the opposition, but they also add a hefty dose of offense as seen in Game 1.


CHICAGO
--  In one way, guys like Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg fit the old description as NHL checkers. Bolland annoys like the little pest the popular kids can't shake, while Versteeg is just solid in his positioning and effective with his stick.
 
But the Blackhawks' checkers, including the injured Andrew Ladd and -- for Game 1, at least -- a healthy and eager Tomas Kopecky, aren't buying the notion that a checking line is supposed to only worry about keeping the other team's top line off the scoreboard.
 
"I don't know if we're that checking line or that top line," Bolland said Sunday.
 
It was hard to tell Saturday night when Bolland, Versteeg and Kopecky all scored and had an assist in Chicago's 6-5 win over Philadelphia.
 
The production is not in the least bit surprising considering Bolland now has 6 goals in the playoffs, Versteeg 5 and Kopecky, who netted the winner, 4. Bolland and Versteeg also have 6 assists apiece.

"You can call them a checking line," Hawks center Patrick Sharp said, "but they've all got the ability to put the puck in the net, and that's what makes them so dangerous."
 
Their skill makes them different. It also makes them effective.
 
Bolland used to be a top scorer in the OHL with the London Knights. He had 130 points in 59 games in the 2005-06 season, his last in junior hockey. Versteeg has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last two seasons with the Blackhawks. Ladd scored in the teens the last two seasons and combined for 87 points over 164 games, while Kopecky, when given the chance to play with offensive players, usually finds a way to be effective.
 
"We can play offense, too, so maybe at times they have to be thinking defense as well," Versteeg said. "We're just trying to play our best, play hard and keep the game as simple as we can."
 
Simple for them is crushing the opposition's top unit with a puck-possession game. They did that against the Sedin twins in the Vancouver series and against San Jose's big three of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley in the Western Conference Finals.
 
In Game 1 against the Flyers, they did it again. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, three intelligent and responsible two-way forwards, finished the game a combined minus-7 with zero points and 10 shots on goal.
 
"Right now in the Finals we have to focus on the defense first, but every time you can hold on to the pucks -- 'Steeger' is so good at it in the offensive zone and so is 'Bolly' -- it's going to be tougher for the top line to score on our goalie," Kopecky said. "That's the kind of checking we played. We were trying to hold onto the pucks in their zone, wear them down so they don't spend as much time in our zone."
 
Bolland knows the advantage they have when the other guys have to play defense, too.
 
"When we have a chance to get back in their zone I think they get caught wandering around maybe," said Bolland, who scored his goal while shorthanded. "We still have a little bit of energy and we can work it around. We've got some great offensive players and we can show it."
 
Not all the time. That's been the biggest adjustment for Bolland and Versteeg.
 
"In junior it was a lot easier," Bolland said. "You didn't really have to play in the defensive zone."
 
Bolland always had to face the checkers.
 
"There was that guy around you poking you and lifting your stick for no reason," he said. "It does get to be a bit of a nuisance. I hated that, so I guess it took it from junior, how guys did it to me, to now in the NHL."
 
Nobody can keep his composure when the same guy that is in his face all game long then buries him with a goal, and Bolland and Versteeg have been burying some of the best players in the NHL for the last month and a half.
 
Traditionalists have to be rethinking the definition for the checking line.
 
"Well, they're skilled players that are in a checking role, I guess," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews told NHL.com. "That's the way to look at it."
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Columnist