CHICAGO – Joel Quenneville needed just one word Sunday to describe Bryan Bickell’s regular season.
Ordinary. As in nothing special.
Eleven goals and four assists in 59 games from a top-line performer who signed a $16 million contract extension in the off-season backed up the Blackhawks coach’s blunt characterization. But eight games into the playoffs, Bickell has reversed that trend, pushing his point total to eight (five goals and three assists) with a goal and two assists in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Wild at the United Center.
Ask the veteran left winger to explain the disparity between the past and present, though, and it quickly becomes evident that even Bickell can’t explain it.
“I don’t know,” Bickell said. “This is a crucial time. I want to play in the regular season the way I play here. But it just seems like good things happen at this time of the season.”
Bickell’s third-period goal extended the Blackhawks lead to 3-1 and came only a shift after he thought he had given the Hawks a two-goal advantage. After the puck nicked the post and crossbar and then scooted along the goal line, Bickell raised his arm, prepared to celebrate.
Bickell’s goal, though, helped solidify his role as a postseason player – even after struggling for much of the regular season with remaining confident. At the time, Bickell’s teammates knew Bickell wasn’t the same player, watching him trudge through periods when he couldn’t produce no matter what he tried.
“The best players and the best athletes in any sport have some tough moments,” captain Jonathan Toews said Sunday. “But the fact that he can overcome some tough weeks and tough games like he had earlier in the year and take advantage of the opportunity he has now in the playoffs, he’s proving what kind of player he is.”
During his regular-season slump, Bickell saw his playing time diminish as he tried to work through his difficulties. Quenneville pushed him to rediscover the playoff form that had emerged during last year’s Stanley Cup run. But in the stretches when he failed to produce, Bickell found it difficult not to over-analyze why he couldn’t match the level of play at the end of last season.
“You always say, ‘Why is it not working when I’m doing the right things?’ ” Bickell said. “But you need confidence and believe in yourself and I didn’t have it then. But I think I have it now and that feels good.”
Despite his regular-season struggles, Quenneville and Bickell’s teammates remained patient, waiting for Bickell’s game to again take shape. Heading into the Hawks first-round series with St. Louis, Quenneville placed Bickell back on the top line with Marian Hossa and Toews. It’s been a move that has reassured Bickell that he is capable of contributing the way he did during last year’s playoffs.
His eight playoff points suggest the same thing.
“Now, it looks like he’s playing the same way,” Quenneville said.
But in the midst of a bountiful postseason, Bickell understands what is expected of him with the Hawks having won six straight games. The key, he said is to keep things simple and not revert back to his regular-season form.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes,” Bickell said. “It’s going good right now.”