- WATCH: Bryan Bickell on making big plays in big games
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- WATCH: Bryan Bickell on slow start: 'The fans were all over me'
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- WATCH: Corey Crawford on closing out games in playoffs
- WATCH: Corey Crawford on creating a 'cusion' in Game 2 win
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Updated: May 4, 2014 11:09PM
Bryan Bickell added a new wrinkle to the already well-worn “playoff-performer” storyline Sunday: How about that stretch pass?
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Bickell said a little sheepishly when asked about the deep pass that set up Marian Hossa for a breakaway that led to Jonathan Toews’ first-period goal in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center.
“I’m not really much of a passer. I think my eyes were closed when I passed to Hoss. That was a good play by Duncs [Duncan Keith] to get it by the forechecker. I just looked up and Hoss must have fallen or something. He was behind the [defenseman] and [I was] happy to get it to him.”
The Bickell story is not a new one: A breakout player with 17 points in 23 games during the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup last season, Bickell struggled in the regular season after signing a four-year, $16 million contract. But for whatever reason — his own confidence, coach Joel Quenneville’s confidence in him, and of course, playing on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa — Bickell is at it again. He scored a goal and had two assists in Game 2 to give him eight points (five goals, three assists) in eight postseason games.
“He’s playing confident. He’s playing hard. He’s not worried about scoring or anything like that,” Toews said. “He’s focusing on the little details of his game and he’s doing all those little things. He’s a talented player. He’s got a great shot. He’s a big body and he’s going to get chances. Obviously, he’s taking advantage of it.”
Bickell can’t figure out what it is that sparks him in the playoffs. But he makes a huge difference in a playoff series. It’s one thing for a team to be unable to match the offensive firepower of Toews, Hossa and Patrick Sharp. But so far, the Wild don’t even have a Bickell. In seven postseason games against the Wild over the past two years, Bickell has six goals and three assists.
“I don’t know. This is a crucial time,” Bickell said when asked the secret to his postseason success. “I want to play in the regular season the way I play [in the playoffs]. It just seems like good things happen at this time of season. I’m happy to contribute and do whatever it takes to help the team.”
Bickell added an assist on Brandon Saad’s second-period goal that gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead. But he made the biggest impact with his shooting. When the Blackhawks were protecting a 2-1 lead late in the third period, Bickell hit the crossbar with a wrist shot with 4:39 left in regulation that he thought was a goal. On his next shift, he left no doubt — on a 2-on-1 break with Hossa, he lasered a shot past Ilya Bryzagalov to the upper right corner of the goal that gave the Hawks a 3-1 lead with 2:45 to go.
“He was full speed down the wing and it was a great shot,” Bryzgalov said.
“I just lifted my head and felt that spot was open,” Bickell said. “It was a huge goal for us . They were pressing. If they scored you never know what could have happened. To get that goal at a crucial time, it felt good.”
Bickell’s teammates were impressed with his passing. (“It was pretty good vision,” Toews said of the pass to Hossa.) But it’s Bickell’s shot that makes him so dangerous.
“He lays the body and opens up some ice for our skill guys,” goaltender Corey Crawford said. “And his shot — I see him in practice every day. That thing is a rocket. It’s hard to read off his stick and even harder to react to, it’s such a quick shot. That was a bomb off the post and the second one was even harder.”
Asked how to contain Bickell, Wild coach Mike Yeo tried to simplify the problem.
“Not give up a 2-on-1,” Yeo said, referring to the odd-man rush with Hossa that led to the third-period goal. “We were trailing in that situation and pressing a little bit.”
It might be more than just a matter of limiting opportunities. The Hawks are pretty good at creating scoring chances. Bickell is just one more scorer who can take advantage. Especially in the postseason.
“He plays great in the playoffs,” Saad said. “Especially tonight [Game 2], doing the little things, making good plays and banging bodies. He takes his game to another level in the playoffs and that’s what we expect out of him.”