Bickell again finds playoff success
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks usually don't make much of a splash at the NHL Trade Deadline.
They didn't this season either, and the reason might be the guy wearing No.29 for them.
Bryan Bickell, a 6-foot-4, 233-pound power forward, has again transformed into a different player during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, giving Chicago the same boost some teams get from deadline acquisitions. After a disappointing, injury-marred regular season, Bickell is again a major factor for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
He had a goal and two assists Sunday in a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild at United Center in just the latest example.
Bickell has points in five straight playoff games and has scored goals in three straight. His production is a big reason Chicago leads the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series against the Wild 2-0.
"I don't know, this is a crucial time," Bickell responded when asked why he thinks his contributions increase so much in the playoffs. "I want to play in the regular season the way I do here, but it just seems like good things happen this time of the season. I'm happy to contribute and do whatever it takes to help the team."
A year ago, Bickell ascended from left wing on the third line to left wing on the top line in a Western Conference Semifinals series against the Detroit Red Wings, helping the Blackhawks overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the series.
He continued his strong play in the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings before helping Chicago beat the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, scoring the game-tying goal late in the third period of Game 6 to set up Dave Bolland's Cup-winning goal 17 seconds later.
After a lackluster season in which he had 11 goals and four assists in 59 games, Bickell already has five goals and three assists in eight games this postseason. He's once again playing on the Blackhawks' top line.
"He's playing confident," said captain Jonathan Toews, who centers the top line. "He's playing hard. He's not worrying about scoring or anything like that. He's focusing on the little details in the game, and when he's doing all those little things, he's a talented player. He's got a great shot, he's got a big body and he's going to get chances. Obviously, he's taking advantage of them."
Bickell unveiled his ability to pass the puck Sunday. His first assist, midway through the first period, was a beauty that sparked the game's first goal. After Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith got him the puck along the wall in the defensive zone, Bickell spotted right wing Marian Hossa in the neutral zone. He fired a perfect stretch pass behind the Wild's defense and sprung Hossa for a breakaway.
Hossa nearly scored, but Minnesota goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made the save. Toews cleaned up the rebound to make it 1-0.
"That was a good play by [Keith] to get it by the forechecker, and I just looked up and [Hossa] must have fell or something," Bickell said. "He was behind the [defense], and I was happy to get it to him. I thought he'd score, but good play by Johnny to finish it off."
Bickell's second assist, late in the second, was nearly as pretty.
Brandon Saad flipped him a diagonal pass through traffic in the slot that bounced over his stick, but Bickell collected the puck and sent it back. Saad carried into the slot and fired a wrist shot that hit Wild forward Zach Parise and fluttered into the top left corner of the net for a 2-0 lead two seconds after Wild forward Justin Fontaine got out of the penalty box.
"He's known for shooting the puck hard and scoring goals, but that was a great pass there on [Toews'] goal and good vision out of him [all game]," Saad said. "He brings something new to the table every day."
Two hard wrist shots late in the third were anything but new for Bickell.
At 15:21 of the third, with Chicago clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bickell took a pass from Toews and rang a hard shot off the crossbar that dropped straight down, hit the blue paint and skittered away. Minnesota wasn't as lucky 2:06 later, when Bickell capped a 2-on-1 created by Hossa's skating ability.
Hossa shoveled the puck to Bickell, who pumped a wrist shot past Bryzgalov to the far side of the net for a goal that all but assured a Blackhawks victory.
"They were pressing at the end there," Bickell said. "We knew if we played simple, we'd create opportunities and we had two 2-on-1s there. I thought the first one went in, but I'm happy to get the [goal on] the second one. It was a crucial goal. They were pressing. That was a big win for us."
His teammates thought so too. Once again, they're enjoying the view as Bickell ascends to another level.
"[Bickell] always seems to come through in the postseason, and he's been doing it again," Chicago forward Kris Versteeg said. "It's good to see the amount of energy he brings into a building when he's hitting and scoring. I played with him when I was in the minors and now. When he's motivated, he's a heck of a hockey player."