Frolik, Bickell need rebound seasons

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Frolik, Bickell need rebound seasons

Bryan Bickell and Michael Froliks respective European hockey teams were only about 180 miles apart. Bickell played for HC Znojmo in the Austrian League and Frolik for Pirati Chomutov of the Czech Extraliga, just minutes from his offseason home.
Now back in Chicago and preparing for this upcoming 48-game season, their individual goals are about as close as their overseas squads.
Both Bickell and Frolik are coming off frustrating and disappointing seasons with the Blackhawks. Both enjoyed their time playing in Europe and now hope that work there boosts them toward better performances in Blackhawks uniforms.
I wasnt very good last year and I know I can be better, said Frolik, who had 13 goals and 10 assists in 29 games for Chomutov. I worked this summer, played some games in the Czech Republic; Im in good shape but I think I can prove I can be better than last year.
Frolik came to Chicago after tallying two consecutive 21-goal seasons for the Florida Panthers. He hasnt scored 21 goals in the past three seasons combined. Frolik admitted last season that he was pressing, squeezing the stick in frustration and reiterated that again on Friday.
The more you want to score the more it kind of goes against you. I just have to try to forget that and just play the game and try to be relaxed, said Frolik, who added he played in every situation for Chomutov. I just want to play like the first two years (in Florida), and even better.
Bickell is in the same boat, although hes also in the final year of his current contract. Hes coming off a tough 2011-12 during which he was an on againoff again healthy scratch down the regular-season stretch. Bickell was more of a top-line player for Znojmo, for which he tallied nine goals and 18 assists in 28 games.
My first year was a good year and last year was a speed bump, Bickell said. Being overseas and coming into the season where I am now, I feel good. I need to bring it every game, no shifts, no days off, whether its talking to the doc or our leaders to help me through that inconsistency in my game.
Bickell said his Austrian League play was beneficial for several reasons, especially his skating. The bruising forward played in a league that featured more skill than physical play, but he knows that hell need to use his body more again over here to succeed.
When (coach Joel Quenneville) puts me on the power play or whenever, Im there to raise some havoc on the ice. I need to work on screens and tips, Bickell said. This could be a big year for me.
Both Frolik and Bickell are looking to have big years. They got plenty out of their European play. That work needs to come through here with the Blackhawks immediately.
Its an important year for me and the team, Bickell said. We need to have a good start, and so do I.

Resilient Wild make statement with comeback win over Blackhawks

Resilient Wild make statement with comeback win over Blackhawks

The Minnesota Wild have been chasing the Blackhawks for a long time.

They may not be so far away now.

After falling behind 2-0, the Wild scored three unanswered goals to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center on Sunday night, and moved into sole possession of first place in the Central Division and Western Conference with 61 points, and still have four games in hand.

But even the Wild had to remind themselves that they're on the same playing surface as the Blackhawks, who eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15, two of which were en route to Stanley Cup wins.

"We were pretty slow," coach Bruce Boudreau said about the team's first period. "I thought we were in a little bit of quick sand. We watched them play. I think it was a little bit more [we were] in awe. It's the Chicago Blackhawks, we're supposed to be in awe."

When they snapped out of it, the Wild looked like the team that has become one of the NHL's best, having now won 17 of their last 19 games.

Wild nemesis Patrick Kane scored the game's first two goals, but Minnesota displayed the type of resiliency every contender needs by evening it up in the second period thanks to a power-play goal by Nino Neiderreiter — his third goal in as many games — and Chris Stewart, who found the back of the net for the second consecutive contest.

Jason Pominville, who hadn't scored in 19 straight games, registered the game-winner early in the third period to cap off a Wild victory. It's Minnesota's eighth straight win against Chicago, a feat that even its coach can't explain.

"To beat this team eight times in a row is really something," Boudreau said. "I don't understand how you could do it. I wish I would have had that knowledge a couple years ago. But it's a new year and it's just one in a row right now."

That's one of many reasons why the Wild have been so successful this season. They're taking it one game at a time, and no matter what the score is, they continue to play the same way and have the belief they can win any game.

Less than 24 hours before their win over the Blackhawks, the Wild jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Dallas and squandered it in the third period. They found a way to bounce back, however, to take home a 5-4 victory in regulation.

So, how do they keep doing it?

"I don't know," Boudreau responded. "We're supposed to. If you want to win, you've got to come back, right? You got to believe. I think the biggest thing is believing you can, and that's the first step. If you don't believe you can come back, you never come back. If you always believe there's a chance, there's a good chance you can do it."

Said Stewart: "I just think we're a confident bunch. We believe in ourselves. We know we didn't get the start that we wanted, but we got one to crawl back in it and all this team needs is a little bit of life."

There's no better measuring stick than to beat a team in your division that's won three championships since 2010, and has been powerhouses in the West for nearly a decade.

And it's something the Wild hope — and believe — they're in the process of achieving.

"It's always a big rival," Neiderreiter said. "You always want to beat the Hawks. They won a few Stanley Cup in the past few years, and that's something we want to accomplish someday. To do that, we have to make sure we beat top teams like that."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Start strong, finish fizzles

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Start strong, finish fizzles

Well, that weekend didn't go as planned.

The Blackhawks played a lot better on Sunday night but suffered the same fate as Friday, coming away with no points and losing first place in the Western Conference in their 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Let's dispense with the frivolities. Here are Five Things to take away from the Blackhawks' loss to Minnesota.

1. Strong start. The Blackhawks needed to come out strong in this one, mainly because their Friday game against the Washington Capitals was so bad but also because the Wild were coming off a frenzied 5-4 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. The Blackhawks got the appropriate start, outshooting the Wild 14-8 and leading 1-0 on Patrick Kane's goal. Speaking of which… 

2. Kane with the great evening. The Blackhawks dressing seven defensemen meant one thing: Kane was probably going to get a lot of ice time. That he did, double-shifting with the second and fourth lines in the first period and giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead with first- and second-period goals. Kane finished with a career-high 12 shots on goal in 27:09 of ice time. "You know you're going to play a lot. I don't know if [27] minutes is that amount you want to be playing, but at the same time, you're not going to say no when he calls you to go out there too," Kane said.

3. The Wild respond in the second. Minnesota didn't have the best start but they regained momentum and erased a deficit in the second period. It's not that their chances were that much better than the Blackhawks – it was a fairly even period in every way, from shots on goal (16-15 Blackhawks) to overall play. But coach Joel Quenneville didn't like how the Blackhawks played on Nino Niederreiter or Chris Stewart's goals, calling the mistakes made on them, "cardinal sins."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

4. Quiet night for the top line. Outside of Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks' top line didn't do much on Sunday night. Hossa had two shots on goal. Jonathan Toews had none, as it was another too-quiet night for the Blackhawks' captain. 

5. Minnesota keeps the rivalry edge. Remember those three consecutive springs in which the Blackhawks dispatched the Wild? Well, the past two seasons may not be equal in payback terms but the Wild are nevertheless tilting the rivalry – at least in regular-season games – in their favor. The Wild won all five games last season and took the first of this season, as well. Minnesota made some good offseason moves, including acquiring Eric Staal in July. Full marks to the Wild: right now, they are the cream of the Western Conference crop.