Bickell the big body Blackhawks need against Kings
|Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
The narrative for the Western Conference Final is simple: the speed and skill of the Chicago Blackhawks against the size and physical play of the Los Angeles Kings.
That doesn't mean the Kings don't have some players with speed and skill who wouldn't mind playing the way Chicago and the Detroit Red Wings did in the Western Conference Semifinals. And Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell certainly isn't going to be sad about matching up with the rough-and-tumble Kings.
"Yeah, I think it is my game definitely," Bickell said. "The hitting is probably the main part of my game, whether to spark the team or just get separation for the guys out there. Finishing checks is a way to grind down their D and their forwards. It is my part of the game. It is going to be a physical series. We haven't had so much of that in the first two series, but we're looking forward to it."
At 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, Bickell looks the part of a Los Angeles forward. The Kings won the Stanley Cup last season on the strength of Jonathan Quick's goaltending, but also the physical play of their big, speedy wings who complemented a deep, talented group of centers.
There could be some thunderous collisions in Game 1 on Saturday at United Center (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN). The teams will be amped up for the start of a new series and looking to establish a tone.
"They're going to try and be physical," Bickell said. "For me, I need to be physical to bring out my game. I feel this is going to be a good series. It is going to be a long series."
This already has been a postseason to remember for Bickell. Every team that goes on a long Stanley Cup Playoff run ends up getting unexpected offensive contributions from role players.
Los Angeles got five goals in a six-game span from forward Dwight King during its march last spring. Chicago had several second-tier players excel during its Cup run in 2010.
Bickell scored in three of the five games against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round, then helped the Blackhawks come back against the Red Wings with goals in Games 5 and 6 of a series they won in Game 7. He's tied for second on the team at five goals with Marian Hossa, two behind Patrick Sharp and two more than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane combined.
"He's been laying some big hits and going to the net hard, getting those bounces around the net on his stick and finishing them off too," forward Viktor Stalberg said of Bickell. "It's good to see him do that, and we need him to keep going here if we want to have a chance to win.
"He's a good player. He can make plays and plays simple. He knows he's not going to have the puck or handle the puck too much, but he knows where to have it and goes to those areas to shoot as much as possible. I think that's the biggest thing. He gets in trouble when he thinks he needs to make too many plays, like a lot of us, but when he stays away from that and stays simple he's a really good player."
Bickell has been versatile during the postseason, spending time on the third line with Stalberg and Andrew Shaw and on the second unit with Hossa and Michal Handzus during the last three games of the Detroit series.
If the forward lines Chicago used during practice Friday hold for Game 1, Bickell will earn another promotion. He skated with Toews and Hossa on the top line, with Kane, Sharp and Handzus as the other top-six trio.
The Kings have physical players on all four lines, so placing Bickell next to Toews and Hossa could be coach Joel Quenneville's way of finding some balance.
"I think he’s earned that opportunity [with] how he’s played,” Quenneville said. "Not just his production offensively but physically he's been engaged and he's got some speed and he's had a lot of puck time. When he did get the opportunity [against Detroit] to move up with those guys he did a great job. I think it gives a little more size and presence on that line."
Toews saw a lot of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg in the previous round, and is likely to see either Anze Kopitar or Mike Richards facing Los Angeles. Much was made of the physical play against Toews early in the series with the Red Wings, and the Kings will have plenty of people trying to do the same.
Having Bickell around could help Toews and Hossa find a little more space at the offensive end.
"He's a big body, shown some poise with the puck as the playoffs go along," Toews said. "No coincidence that he's been putting up the points he has been. He's the type of guy that has been bringing it every part of the game. With the shot he has, the ability he has to score goals, we'll try to get him the puck as much as we can. He's going to do his thing, be physical, throw his body around. It will be fun."
Bickell will become an unrestricted free agent in five weeks if he does not sign a contract with the Blackhawks before then. It is no secret that players who perform well in the postseason tend to attract the attention of teams looking to make free-agent signings.
His postseason scoring outbreak has made Bickell a candidate for a significant raise from the $600,000 he was paid this season. At 27 years old, with his size and track record, he was already going to be a sought-after commodity before this playoff success.
Bickell had 17 goals two seasons ago before scoring nine last season. He had nine in nearly half the number of games in 2012-13. There were three pending UFA forwards who have yet to reach their 30th birthday who scored more points than Bickell this season: Toronto's Tyler Bozak, Detroit's Damien Brunner and New Jersey's David Clarkson.
Bickell was asked if he's thought about what the playoffs have done for him heading into this summer.
"No," he said. "I just want to make this team win.
"I knew coming into this year I needed to have a good year, and you can see what happened to our team the whole season. We're just looking forward to this series. Me personally, I'm just hoping to get by this series. That's the biggest thing for me."