Bryan Bickell lowered his shoulder and drove it into the chest of Minnesota’s Tom Gilbert, sending the defenseman sprawling and the crowd into a boisterous frenzy.
His Chicago Blackhawks teammates noticed, too.
“It gets things going, gets guys on the bench going,” Bickell’s linemate Andrew Shaw said of hits like that. “It builds momentum.”
As much as Bickell’s game has benefited the Blackhawks, it’s benefited him, too. The physical forward picked a great time to raise his game, and his contributions were key in the Blackhawks’ first-round elimination of the Wild.
“I’m just doing whatever it takes to help the team win,” said Bickell, who tallied three goals and several timely hits during the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Coach Joel Quenneville said Bickell was “noticeable.”
“He had a real good series,” he said. “His size and physicality were noticeable, and so was his quickness. He was influential in a lot of turnovers, sustaining offensive zone time and some timely goals. He’s had a good start.”
The goals did come at the right time. His first won the series opener in overtime, a subtle backhand slider that, for a guy whose offense usually comes from wicked wristers, was unexpected. His third gave the Blackhawks extra breathing room in a 3-0 Game 4 road victory. But with Bickell, the offense is gravy. It’s more about the physical element, which has been there.
So what is it about this time of year that Bickell embraces and that brings out his best?
“I think it’s more hitting, and it gets me more into the game. This is my kind of hockey,” Bickell said. “It’s what you build for, to make the playoffs and to try to do well. The playoffs are my kind of hockey.”
Quenneville pointed back to the 2011 Western Conference quarterfinals against Vancouver, where Bickell was a big part of the Blackhawks getting back into that series. But he missed Game 7 with a wrist injury, which he got surgery on at that time, and his presence was missed.
“He’s the kind of guy that flies under the radar over the course of the year. But those guys sometimes jump up come playoff time, and he probably fits that description,” Quenneville said. “His physicality is something we need, and he’s been providing it. It’s been a big plus for us.”
Bickell’s provided the goals and, at key times, lowered the boom. The Blackhawks need that to continue.