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Viktor Stalberg has given Dave Bolland’s line a boost

Dave Bollis closing 20 goals. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Dave Bolland is closing in on 20 goals. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Red Wings
at Blackhawks

The facts: 7, CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: March 22, 2012 8:12AM

All season, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has said he wants to see more of out Dave Bolland’s line. Just last week, he said, “that line has to be more dependable and reliable and something we’ve seen in the past.”

The problem has been finding the right players to stick with Bolland, who typically gets the checking-line assignment.

Enter Viktor Stalberg.

They’ve played together before this season. But with 22 games left, Bolland isn’t battling a nagging foot injury, and Stalberg has a better grasp of defensive responsibilities after being used solely in offensive roles throughout his career.

“They’re controlling the play a lot,” Quenneville said. “They have the puck a lot. Hopefully, that’s where they’re going to be at [the rest of the season].”

Bolland (17 goals) and Stalberg (16) also are motivated to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time.

The Hawks have needed a line to lessen the burden on their stars. Stalberg and Bolland believe they can provide that.

“I try not to set so many goals,” said Bolland, whose pass to Patrick Kane ricocheted off the St. Louis Blues’ David Backes for a goal Sunday. “I sort of just let the season be its own path and let things come to me. But you do set goals, and 20 goals is one that I’d like to hit.”

Twenty goals still is considered a big milestone for players, especially those not considered stars. Last season, Stalberg scored 12 in his first full NHL season. Bolland, who has battled injuries throughout his career, had 19 in 2008-09.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to score 20. I want to score 30,” Stalberg said. “That’s something I think I can be in my career, a consistent 20-goal scorer. The way the year is going and the guys I’m playing with, I should be able to score more than 20, if I keep it up. We’ll see what happens, but I’ll stay with it.”

Stalberg has played on every line this season, but he and Bolland make a unique pairing, much like Bolland and Kris Versteeg did two seasons ago.

Bolland is considered one of the better checking centers in the league because of his edginess, positioning and anticipation. Stalberg can enhance that with his speed by being Bolland’s exit route in the defensive zone. Stalberg’s speed also can cause problems on the forecheck if he continues to be physical.

“Having Stalberg on my line is good and fun,” Bolland said. “You just have to flip that puck over a few guys’ heads, and he’s gone and we’re in their zone.”

Their play also has helped reinvigorate winger Bryan Bickell, who has been more physical and assertive since the trio was assembled Feb. 14 against the Nashville Predators. In four games, the line has combined for 22 shots on goal, and the Hawks have gone 3-1.

Quenneville believes Bolland’s line has garnered “a ton of chances” recently, and he likes how it has been maintaining possession. If that keeps up, 20 goals or more might become a reality for Stalberg and Bolland.

“You can’t take things for granted,” Bolland said. “One little mistake, one little break in the game, it’s huge, and a team will pounce on that. I think we’ve been doing a great job by doing the right things and keeping it simple.”

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