Commentary

Hard, ugly work revitalizes Hawks

Given recent success, Blackhawks know what is needed for deep Cup run

Updated: May 12, 2014, 2:05 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Bryan Bickell is one more playoff goal away from getting full custody of CNBC's "Money Honey" nickname.

Breaking news: Planting a big body in front of the net often results in increased goal earnings.

Yes, it was "Mad Money" hockey on CNBC on Sunday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks cashed in on their hard work in a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild to give them a 3-2 lead in this second-round playoff series.

Bickell, the highly paid X factor, continued his two-year run of postseason success. He changed the temperature of a tepid game just by hanging around when he got credit for a body deflection on Patrick Kane's fluttering shot to tie the game at one in the second period.

Bickell's goal, his sixth of the playoffs -- which tied him for the league lead -- woke up a quiet Sunday night crowd and was indicative of a rebound effort after two dispiriting losses and a lackluster first period in Game 5.

In the power-play situation, Kane shot the puck (garnering his fourth assist of the playoffs), and Bickell, who eclipsed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, used his "lower body" to redirect the puck.

"I see that in practice," Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford said. "He's pretty tough to look around. He's got a great stick, too. He gets a lot of tips and sticks on the puck. He's definitely difficult to handle when he's in front [of the net]."

After a rejuvenating second period, the Blackhawks took the lead early in the third period on a "dirty" goal by Jonathan Toews. Now, they are sitting pretty, with a possible clincher on Tuesday night in Minnesota and, if necessary, a Game 7 at home Thursday.

The home team has won every game of this series. This is why you want home-ice advantage.

"We're still expecting to play our best hockey and still looking for that next level," Toews said. "We're not satisfied, and we're not happy how we played those two games on the road. There's a lot of room for improvement, but we're confident we can find it."

Toews found "it" 4½ minutes into the third period.

The captain, stationed on the post to Bryzgalov's left, dug in and sent home a puck that bounced off at least two Wild, one Blackhawk, an Ice Girl and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's light denim shirt to give the Blackhawks a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"He's done it a bunch of times, so many you tend to forget a little bit," Crawford said. "He's definitely relentless and scores in so many ways. It's hard to stop."

"Just an ugly goal," said Toews, who has five goals and five assists in the playoffs. "It felt good we could hold on and play the rest of a period with a one-goal lead."

True that. I'm all about "No New Overtimes."

It hasn't been easy, but the Blackhawks are one win away from their second consecutive Western Conference finals and five wins from another Stanley Cup appearance, but let's not get ahead of themselves.

There is no such thing as game-to-game momentum in hockey, or really any sport.

[+] EnlargeBryan Bickell
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBickell's work in front of the net earned him the equalizing goal that was the springboard for the Blackhawks' comeback win in Game 5.
Hockey is a funny game because so much of the final results, even in the playoffs, are because of effort as much as pure skill. Sometimes, it really is about who wants it more. Playoff hockey is where sports cliches go to live happily.

But there's nothing fictitious about the value of getting to the net and wreaking havoc. Bickell is not Kane, but there he is, becoming a regular goal scorer in the big-time playoff moments. When the Blackhawks are getting these kinds of goals, they're exceptionally tough to beat. When they're not crashing the net with abandon, they're another pretty team.

"We're not going to get good chances all game," Crawford said. "We have to work hard and get to the net, get pucks and bodies to the net and get those dirty goals. I mean, we have speed and skill, but that's not going to get you chances all the time. You've got to mix it up and go hard to the net."

He should know. Crawford stopped 27 shots Sunday, sprawling, splaying, gloving and deflecting Wild chances. While the Xcel Energy Center crowd perfected a mocking "Craw-ford!" chant, the United Center crowd serenaded the goalie with a reverential "Cor-ey!" cheer.

"Stop the puck. That's what he does," Toews said. "Nothing different. When we need Crow to be better, at another level than he normally is -- which says a lot -- he's there for us."

The Blackhawks talked a lot about those kinds of levels Sunday. It's not typical playoff pablum. The core of this group has been to the mountaintop, and they know the path to get there.

It's a road paved by deflections and ugly goals, and the Blackhawks don't need directions.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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