Bickell springs into action again
After an 'ordinary' regular season, the first-line forward is stepping up for Hawks
CHICAGO -- His wrister hit the crossbar with such force in the third period Sunday that even Bryan Bickell thought it had caromed in for a goal, thought it must have found the net and maybe even taken a chunk of steel tubing along with it.
It is the type of confidence that simply wasn't there for Bickell, the Chicago Blackhawks' coaching staff or most fans a month ago. It was the type of shot that wasn't there with any regularity during the regular season.
That the Hawks' left winger is blossoming once again in the postseason after being one of the main cogs in the Stanley Cup run last year is only adding to his reputation as a big-time player.
But a career-high three points (one goal, two assists) Sunday in the Hawks' 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series, also provides a little more fuel to the question of "Why in the playoffs and not in the regular season?"
"I don't know," said Bickell, whose five playoff goals so far in 2014 tie him with three others for the league lead. "It's just a crucial time and 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 and I'm happy to do whatever I can to contribute and help the team."
Bickell's regular season, the argument goes, was a huge disappointment with only 11 goals and four assists in 59 games after he signed a four-year $16 million contract in the offseason. Only two games into the second round of this postseason, the argument should go that Bickell has earned his money.
Bickell, a rare power forward with his size and ability, is well aware, he said, of the high expectations that followed last year's postseason performance (nine goals, eight assists and 85 hits in 23 games) and the contract that came largely because of it.
"That's a tough question," he said of how he viewed those expectations. "I know the fans were kind of all over me at the start of the year, but the season and injuries took me a couple steps back, and hopefully I can erase that regular season with a good playoffs and a good run this year. I'm going to do whatever it takes and it's going good right now."
No argument there. With two goals and an assist in the first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, two goals in Game 1 against the Wild and more points Sunday than the entire Minnesota team, Bickell was honest when asked about his play picking up in the playoffs.
Speaking specifically of his physical intensity after tallying 35 hits in the six-game series against St. Louis, he said he simply cannot sustain the same type of play in the regular season.
"It is hard," he said. "I think I need to pick up my game in the regular season more than I was, but to have the playoffs and to keep this rolling and not think about the regular season is crucial, and I don't want to have my mindset where it was. I just need to look forward and keep playing."
The word "confidence" has popped up a lot.
"It happens to the best players or the best athletes in any sport. You have some tough moments," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "But the fact that he can overcome some tough weeks or tough games like he had earlier in the year and take advantage of the opportunity he's getting now in the playoffs, he's proven what type of player he is, that it wasn't just a one-time thing playing so well in the playoffs.
"He was such a big part of our team last year. It's just fun to watch him play and fun to see him have that confidence because even away from the ice, he's such a happy guy and brings a lot to our locker room and to the group when we're just hanging out."
Bickell said his level is going up by dumbing it down.
"Just playing simple, I think, up and down my wing, getting the puck deep, not doing too much and just finishing my checks," he said. "I think if I do that and get the puck to my two linemates, then I think my confidence will get better and it's going the right way now and I'm happy for it."
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However he has rediscovered himself -- and Bickell said a big part of it was the "playoff atmosphere" late in the season and coach Joel Quenneville's growing faith in him -- all that matters now is that, back on the top line, his team can count on him again.
His incredible stretch pass to Marian Hossa on a breakaway led to the Hawks' first goal and the only lead they would need Sunday, when Toews rebounded Hossa's miss.
Bickell's second assist came across the ice on Brandon Saad's second-period goal to give the Hawks' a 2-0 lead. And Bickell's goal over a sliding opponent and the goaltender's far shoulder at 17:15 in the third gave the Hawks insurance at 3-1.
"I thought his play all year was ordinary until the end of the year when he was trending, looking like he was going to play like he did last year in the playoffs," Quenneville said of Bickell. "And last year in the playoffs, we gave him a lot more responsibility and he just seemed to grab it and got more and more quality and quantity of ice time.
"He had some big games and now he has earned it, deserved it, and he got rewarded in the summer and now he's playing exactly the same way. So we're happy with the contribution we're getting from him. I thought he and that line had a special game tonight."
And now that spring has sprung, "the grass is greener" and the playoffs and Bickell are in full bloom, he said he is going to try not to overanalyze. "You're always like, 'Why is it not working? I'm doing the right thing,'" he said. "But you need confidence and to believe in yourself to play good hockey. I didn't have it then. I think I have it now. It feels good and we just need to stick with it."