Before the 2013 playoffs, only the most hardcore of hockey fans outside of Chicago would have known the name Bryan Bickell. The Hawks #29 had a respectable regular season, averaging 12 minutes per game, though he was on pace to break his career high in points in a season. Bickell, with his 17 PTS in 23 GP, would shine come the playoffs though, especially in clutch situations, with goals in games five and six facing elimination against Detroit, assisting on Brent Seabrook’s OT winner in game four of the finals vs. Boston, and of course, tying game six late in the third period against those same Bruins. Not only did Bickell become a well-known name in the hockey world, but he was also a key component of the Blackhawks run to their second Stanley Cup championship in four years.
The 2013 playoffs for Bickell were reminiscent of clutch playoff performances of the past from an unlikely hero, most notably Fernando Pisani’s unlikely 14 goal playoffs for Edmonton in 2006. For his amazing run, Pisani was rewarded with a substantial raise, yet was never able to recapture the scoring touch he had in the spring of ’06. When Bickell was given his raise last summer, one for 4-years/$16 million, money which the Blackhawks had after only moving another playoff hero in Dave Bolland, many hockey fans, including myself, wondered if Bickell could continue where he left off from the playoffs, or would he fizzle out and become a flash in the pan as Pisani had done in Edmonton?
The 2013-14 regular season was not kind to Bickell statistically. He was on pace for 40 PTS in 2012-13, yet could only muster 15 in 2013-14 in 59 GP, while his +/- dropped from a very respectable +12 last season, to a -6 this year.
Yet Bickell is proving the doubters wrong so far in the 2014 post-season. He has once again regained that scoring touch and clutch performance ability that he possessed last spring. Entering game three of the second round vs. Minnesota, Bickell is scoring at a point-per-game pace (8 PTS in 8GP), and his line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa is one of the best in the game at the moment.
Why then is Bickell having a sudden outburst of scoring that eluded him in the regular season? Maybe it was the fault of circumstance. In the 2012-13 regular season, Bickell was playing third/fourth line minutes, but found his scoring touch playing top-six minutes, and was seeing limited power-play time. A similar occurrence has happened this year, as Bickell saw his ice time reduced, not to mentioned he battled injuries, and he was getting no PP time. Now in the playoffs, he is finding himself in a better situation, having his minutes increased, getting that PP time, and his aggressive, hard-hitting style complementing Toews and Hossa nicely. Also, Bickell may have just needed time to deal with the pressure of the new contract. With new, heavier expectations, maybe Bickell was gripping the stick too tightly, over-thinking his game during the regular season, but is now comfortable, relaxed, back to his basic style of play.
Whatever the reasons may be, I’m certain head coach Joel Quenneville, as well as every Hawks fan, are happy to see Bickell coming up clutch again, as Chicago continue their march to defending their championship.
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