CHICAGO – Bryan Bickell was certain he had just scored. The Chicago winger held his hands in the air, and was in mid-celebration when the referee told him the puck never crossed the goal line. The shot only clanked off the crossbar and caromed out.
But how could Bickell believe the officials over his own eyes?
After all, it was a perfect pass on a 2-on-1 from Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, and with Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov struggling to move side-to-side, he had the whole top half of the net open. There was no chance he missed.
Here were the Blackhawks, clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the third period, and now his insurance goal wasn’t even getting a review. The only confirmation Bickell received came from NBC analyst Pierre McGuire between the benches, who assured Bickell he missed his opportunity.
So as he hurried down the ice for another 2-on-1 with winger Marian Hossa on his very next shift, Bickell took the pass, aimed a little bit lower, and ripped a shot that sailed past Bryzgalov — assuring the Blackhawks’ 2-0 series lead as they head to Minnesota.
“I’d rather give ‘Hoss’ an assist,” Bickell said with a wide smile after the Blackhawks defeated the Wild 4-1 on Sunday afternoon.
Besides, Bickell already helped Toews out earlier when he caught Hossa with a stretch pass midway through the first period that launched him on a breakaway from the red line in. Bryzgalov stopped Hossa’s initial shot with his toe, but he couldn’t do anything to deny Toews as he put away the rebound to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
“His play all year long 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.” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
If this seems a little like déjà vu, it’s because Bickell has established a knack for terrorizing the Wild. Going back to the first round of the playoffs last year, Bickell has nine points (six goals, three assists) in seven games against Minnesota, which isn’t as troubling as the way he has registered them.
In 2013, Bickell became the Blackhawks’ mainstay in front of the net, disrupting Wild goalie Josh Harding’s vision and cleaning up his rebounds. Bickell is 6-4 and 233 pounds, and it’s not as if the Wild has many guys who could move him out of the way. There were a couple of funny moments in Games 1 and 2 when the 5-9 Jared Spurgeon tried to no avail.
Imagine the Wild’s frustration when Bickell finally left the front of the net unprompted this year, only to start scoring from everywhere else. With a shot release that is one of the fastest on his team, Bickell has developed into a two-way player. He seldom is out of position, and he constantly is hitting and finding ways to score — often all on the same shift.
“Getting on the scoresheet is one thing that gets him noticed the most,” Toews said. “But it’s his physical play, and I was saying on the bench tonight, that we’re being very predictable for each other as linemates. That’s what makes him a lot of fun to play with right now: We’re getting pucks out of our zone, we’re making smart plays, doing a good job of checking that [Zach] Parise line.”
In Game 2, Bickell, who finished with a goal and two assists, tormented Parise’s line. Parise left the ice a minus-3 with three shots, unable to fight his way around the big frame of Bickell and get a clean look at the net.
Yet for all Bickell does to the Wild, there’s still one area he hasn’t seemed to figure out, regardless of what the stats might say.
“I’m not really much of a passer,” Bickell said. “I think my eyes were closed when I passed to ‘Hoss’ in the first.”