CHICAGO | Bryan Bickell’s $16 million contract is as good as gold in the postseason.
Raising eyebrows after his 2013 playoffs-fueled big payday dovetailed with poor production in the regular season’s first half, Blackhawks winger Bickell came alive right on schedule in the postseason.
His fifth goal of the playoffs, a year after he tallied nine in the Stanley Cup run, locked down Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday against a Minnesota Wild team that once again displayed a huge pushback against the Hawks in the second and third periods.
Prior to his tally that gave the Hawks breathing room at 3-1 with just under three minutes to play in the third, Bickell also assisted on goals from Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. Another goal from Saad gave the Blackhawks the 4-1 victory.
Winning their sixth playoff game in a row, the Hawks are now up 2-0 going to Game 3 in Minnesota on Tuesday night.
“This is a crucial time,” Bickell said. “I want to play in the regular season the way I want to do here. It just seems good things happen this time of the season.
“The fans were kind of all over me the start of the year, but the season and injuries kind of set it couple of steps back. Hopefully I can erase that regular season with a good playoffs and a good run this year and do whatever it takes.”
Bickell had just 11 goals and four assists in the regular season. He was a minus-6. But the biggest Hawk at 6-foot-4, 233 pounds is throwing his weight around in a number of ways once spring hit. He came into the game ranking third in the NHL with 37 hits, adding two more Sunday.
“Big game player, I guess,” Toews said. “Old ‘Bicksie.’ Aside from him contributing offensively, he’s doing all the little things right. He’s getting the pucks out. He’s playing really well on the wall in our zone. I think there’s a lot of communication with our defenseman and myself and him as far as where the pressure’s coming from.
“In the offensive zone, guys are aware of where he is because he’s such a physical presence. So it opens up a lot of space and makes those defensemen think of getting rid of the puck quicker than they normally would. So whether he’s scoring or not, he’s doing a lot of great things out there and I think it’s adding up to his success right now.”
Bickell’s score was well-timed. The Wild just hung around and hung around, and even had the Hawks backed up into their own zone for chunks of the third period, putting more pressure on Hawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Cody McCormick scored two minutes into the third to make it 2-1. Shortly afterward, a frantic scramble in front of Crawford left the puck resting on the netting right above the crossbar.
“They’re a patient team and they play well defensively,” Saad said. “Sometimes when they do that you get frustrated and they counterattack and they’re a good rush team and score goals. It’s there before you know it.”