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Blackhawks, Bryan Bickell get a ‘wakey, wakey’ call

Updated: May 5, 2014 1:47PM



The Blackhawks usually know they’re the better team, no matter whom they’re playing. This can be a problem at times.

They seem to be able to turn it on whenever they want. Also a problem at times.

But the word “problem’’ is relative. The Hawks’ problem is a problem lots of teams would love to have.

Their habit of letting opponents get back into games might be maddening to watch, but it’s who they are. And what they are right now is the owner of a 2-0 series lead, thanks to a 4-1 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Wild.

So if you’re a Hawks fan, don’t sweat it. The Hawks certainly aren’t. They were up two goals after two periods at the United Center, found themselves on their heels after giving up a way-too-easy goal in the third period, then flipped on the switch that controls all that talent they have.

Remember what Duncan Keith allegedly said as the Blues’ David Backes was out on his feet last series? This is kind of like that.

Wakey, wakey, Blackhawks.

So they did. Bryan Bickell, who has the habit of disappearing during the regular season, then announcing himself with trumpets in the playoffs, scored late in the third to finally put out the fire. Until that point in the period, the Hawks had stooped to the Wild’s level. In other words, the game had gotten ponderous, exactly the way Minnesota wants games to be. If the Wild produced art, it would be titled “Still Life.’’

But Bickell reanimated the Hawks, first by hitting the crossbar and then, moments later, by beating Ilya Bryzgalov high to give them a 3-1 lead.

Bickell is tied for the team lead with five goals in eight playoff games. It’s the same Bickell who had 11 goals in 59 regular-season games after signing a four-year, $16 million contract extension. At least I think it is.

“I know the fans were kind of all over me at the start of the year,’’ he said. “. . . Hopefully, I can erase that regular season with a good playoffs and a good run this year.’’

He certainly has so far. It helps to be playing on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. But bear in mind that there was a point during the season when Bickell admitted he had lost confidence in his game. At that point, he could have been on a line with Wayne Gretzky, circa 1982, and it might not have mattered.

But something clicks for him come playoff time, just like something kicks in for the Hawks after they’ve played down to an opponent. It’s hard to explain and difficult to condone. But it’s there. Just roll with it.

The next two games are in Minnesota, beginning Tuesday night, and the Wild are hoping home ice and a raucous crowd will go a long way toward the series being tied afterward.

“We’ve got a chance to get back into this thing,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said.

Not if Toews has anything to say about it.

“It’s exactly what we don’t want to give them: energy and [the] hope they can come back in this series,’’ said the captain, who scored the Hawks’ first goal.

Weird bounces can close talent gaps in hockey. I don’t see it happening for the Wild in this series, but it’s the kind of thing that probably keeps coach Joel Quenneville up at night.

Conventional wisdom would say the Hawks can’t keep getting away with having the kind of lulls they’ve had in the first two games, but that’s how they operate. It’ll be the thing that eventually kills Quenneville. All that will be left will be a mustache and the words, “We have to be better.’’

After Game 1, he was working the we’re-not-playing-with-enough-effort angle extremely hard. It sounded like typical coachspeak, but he knew of what he spoke. The third period provided another trademark sleepwalk.

After the game, the Hawks were saying all the right things. And I believe they meant them. That the Wild aren’t going anywhere. That the series figures to only get tougher. That it’s going to take a better effort.

“This team that we’re playing is never going to give up,’’ goalie Corey Crawford said. “They showed us that so far, showed us their skill and speed. They’re definitely not going to give up. We can’t let up at all.’’

Actually, they can. Just not for too long.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MorrisseyCST



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