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Bryan Bickell still has time to redeem underwhelming season

TUESDAY

BLACKHAWKS
AT FLYERS
The facts: 6:30 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: April 19, 2014 6:20AM



PHILADELPHIA — There’s no sugarcoating Bryan Bickell’s season, no positive spin to put on it.

After signing him to a four-year, $16 million contract, the Blackhawks expected more than 10 goals and two assists at this point in the season. They expected him to average more than 11/2 hits per game. They expected him to play more than 10 minutes on most nights.

But there’s one surefire way for Bickell to salvage his lost season. After all, he earned that contract in the playoffs last season. He still can justify it in the playoffs this season.

‘‘When I think of myself as a hockey player, I feel I’m a playoff kind of guy,’’ Bickell said. ‘‘The regular season is important, but the playoffs is the most important time. That’s where the physicality goes up a level, and it tends to bring more out of me. It sparks me.’’

History backs up Bickell. Besides last season, he had big playoff performances in juniors in 2005 (17 points in 21 games) and 2006 (10 points in seven games) and had two goals in each of the Hawks’ first-round losses in 2011 and 2012.

There always are going to be players who underperform during the regular season but have a knack for coming up big in the postseason. Dave Bolland was a perfect example, a guy who seemed to shrug off uninspiring stretches during the regular season to
become a difference-maker when the stakes were highest.

Bickell doesn’t want to think of himself that way. He wants to be a consistent performer from October to June. He wants to be a reliable and productive presence night in and night out.

He also doesn’t want to wait
until the playoffs to flip that switch. In fact, the Hawks’ recent struggles before their 4-1 victory Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings handed Bickell a golden opportunity to get back into coach Joel Quenneville’s good graces. And Bickell has made some headway.

After playing less than 10 minutes in 15 of 26 games since
returning from a knee injury in mid-December, Bickell has averaged nearly 13 minutes in the last three games. He doled out six hits against the Colorado Avalanche, was one of the few players Quenneville wasn’t disgusted with against the Nashville Predators and delivered four more hits against the Red Wings. He even found himself bumped up to the second line Sunday.

‘‘When things are going right, Q likes to keep everything the same,’’ Bickell said. “When we’re struggling, he likes to throw a wrench in and try to get sparks a different way. Hopefully, that can get me going.’’

Bickell had no goals and no
assists in those three games, but he was throwing his weight around and going to the net — the same formula that enabled him to tally nine goals, eight assists and one large contract last spring.

‘‘I see a trend,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘I think the last three or four games, Bick’s been much better. This time of year, we need his presence because he’s got some physicality to his game. When he elevates his game to a different
level, it’s like, wow, he really influences the game.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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