His contributions have changed, but the effect remains the same. Though Chicago winger Bryan Bickell hasn’t scored a point in his team’s second-round series against the Wild through two games, teammate Andrew Shaw has seen Bickell hurt the Wild in a more literal way.
“He’s got a big body, and he throws it around,” Shaw said. “When you’ve got a 225 [pound] body frame like that, you can do a lot of damage. Every time he finishes a check, I feel sorry for the guy on the other end of it.”
Which means Shaw has had plenty of sympathy for the Wild. In 2013 and 2014, Bickell lit up the Wild for seven goals and three assists in 11 playoff games. This time, he is filling a different column on the stat sheet, with 23 hits in the first two games of the series. The 6-4, 223-pound Bickell leads the NHL with 63 hits through the Blackhawks’ first nine games of the postseason.
Through Tuesday’s Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center, Bickell had two assists — both earned in the first round against Nashville — and no goals in the playoffs. His physical presence, though, has drawn raves from teammates and coach Joel Quenneville.
Quenneville said Tuesday that as the stakes rise, so does Bickell’s understanding of what is needed from him. The winger is dedicated to putting heat on his opponents, creating space for his linemates and using that big body to stake out space in front of the net. Tuesday, Bickell knew the Wild would try to slow the Blackhawks’ high-flying attack — and as a guy whose job was to counter that, he delivered a game-high five hits in Game 3.
“It’s important for me to open ice for my linemates and get those [defensemen] second-guessing,” said Bickell, who also has blocked six shots in the playoffs. “Hopefully, we can get some turnovers and just wear them down. It’s up to me to be physical and to slow [the Wild] down in any way.
“You do whatever it takes during the playoffs. You rest your body for these opportunities and finish your checks.”
Bickell’s punishing play has helped open things up for linemates Patrick Kane, who has six goals in the playoffs, and Brad Richards. In the first period Tuesday, he helped his team by being on the other end of some physical contact, when Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon knocked Bickell’s legs out from under him. Kane scored on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.
In his eighth NHL season, Bickell has a reputation as a player whose game rises in the postseason. He led the Blackhawks with 205 hits during the regular season, which tied him for 31st in the league. Bickell finished the regular season with 14 goals and 14 assists.
His 12 hits in Game 2 against the Wild marked a career high. Blackhawks winger Andrew Desjardins said Bickell’s presence makes opponents nervous with the puck, and Quenneville noted that when Bickell is throwing his weight around, his all-around game grows sharper.
Shaw said Bickell is at his best when the games are most important. While his role might not be particularly glamorous, it is a critical component of the Blackhawks’ game plan — and one that his teammates love to see.
“It gets the guys perked up a little bit when he throws a big hit,” Shaw said. “Everyone loves it, and we build off that. It creates energy. It’s a part of the game you need, especially in the playoffs.”