Bickell extended his point streak to five games Sunday afternoon when he scored a goal and had two assists to lead the Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild in Game 2 of their Western Conference Second Round series at United Center.
The win gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series that now shifts to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, for Game 3 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; TSN, CNBC, RDS2). The Wild are 3-0 on home ice in the playoffs, outscoring the opposition 8-3.
Bickell, who had nine goals and 17 points in 23 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, has found his offensive groove once again alongside center Jonathan Toews and right wing Marian Hossa. The trio accounted for two goals, seven points and a plus-8 rating in Game 2.
"His play all year long was ordinary until the end of the year when he was trending, looking like he was going to play in the playoffs," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Bickell, who had 11 goals and four assists in 59 regular-season games. "In the playoffs [last season], we gave him a lot more responsibility, and he just seemed to grab it.
"Now he's playing exactly the same way, and we're happy with the contribution we're getting from him, but I thought he and that line had a special game [Sunday]."
Brandon Saad scored two goals, including one into an empty net with 1:23 remaining in the third, and Toews scored his fourth of the playoffs. Hossa finished with three assists.
"We're still taking it one game at a time," Toews said. "I think you go into every game planning to win. Sometimes that goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. We're going to have a challenge, a real challenge playing on the road these next couple of games, so we'll focus on the next one. It's going to have to be the best game that we've had all series for sure."
Crawford, who made 13 saves in the second period, ranks second with a 1.87 goals-against average and third with a .936 save percentage in eight playoff games. He is tops among all postseason goalies with 249 saves.
"Our defensemen, I think, have been most consistent throughout the playoffs," Crawford said. "They were making plays. There were a couple of rebounds that I let loose, and they were able to clear them away."
Bickell's goal off a quick transition and off a rising wrist shot from the right circle at 17:15 of the third gave the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead. The 2004 second-round pick (No. 41) has four goals and seven points in the past five games, all Chicago victories. Not only did Toews' line produce offensively, but they again shut down Minnesota's top trio of Mikael Granlund centering Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.
"The pressure is always there," Wild coach Mike Yeo said when asked about the struggles of his top unit. "There's more pressure when you're trailing. [The Blackhawks] get that first goal, and that's when the pressure starts to creep in."
Yeo acknowledged, however, that his team has certainly had its opportunities.
"We weren't that far off; again, I know we can play better," Yeo said. "That game was hanging for us. It's a 1-0 game, and we got a couple empty nets, and we can't find a way to put it in. It's hard when you're chasing. We've been chasing for three games now."
Minnesota overcame four one-goal deficits in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in their Western Conference First Round series before finally earning a 5-4 overtime win. Still, the Wild would for once like to play with a lead instead of battling from behind, and that's one area they'll look to correct on home ice.
"I think as a team we were sloppy at the start, not getting pucks in, and they get pucks in and get in on the forecheck and are pretty good," Wild forward Matt Moulson said. "So that was the problem at the start of the game. We'll need to be better."
Saad scored his first goal of the postseason off a wrist shot from between the circles with 56 seconds left in the second period to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead. Bickell earned his second assist of the game when he sent a pass to Saad, who skated between the circles before firing a shot that deflected off Parise's stick and into the top left corner of the net.
Saad's goal came two seconds after a hooking penalty to Wild forward Justin Fontaine had expired. It was his second career postseason goal.
"It was nice to see him score, but the way he was playing, we'll take it whether he has production or not," Quenneville said. "He really added a lot of elements to our team game with his speed, with that line being effective. It was a timely goal and nice to get the extra one in the end.
"He had the puck a lot, backed off the defense, but the finish was nice to see."
The Wild began mounting a third-period comeback similar to the one they staged in Game 1, when they scored two straight to pull even before dropping a 5-2 decision.
The visitors made it 2-1 two minutes into the third when Cody McCormick took a pass from Clayton Stoner and quickly fired a shot past Crawford from the slot. It was McCormick's first point of the playoffs. Erik Haula made the play happen with great speed down the right wing before turning in the right circle and finding Stoner.
Bryzgalov was called upon to make a few big saves to keep his team within striking distance with just more than eight minutes left in third. He stoppedPatrick Kane off a 2-on-1 before denying Ben Smith on the rebound.
The victory extended Chicago's playoff winning streak to six straight at United Center. The Blackhawks have won 16 of their past 18 playoff games on home ice dating back to 2013, and they are unbeaten in five home games in the 2014 playoffs.
Toews extended his point streak to six games in the first when he gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 11:02. The play started when Bickell lined a perfect lead pass to Hossa from his own end to give his teammate a breakaway. Hossa had his attempt denied by the Bryzgalov's right skate, but the puck bounced into the air to Toews, who beat Wild forward Mikko Koivu at the Minnesota blue line and knocked it home at the right post.
Toews has four goals and seven points during his streak.
Quenneville has also been pleased with the way Toews and his linemates have played defensively.
"You're looking for matchups, but you're comfortable with them against anybody," he said. "You like top players against top players, especially when they're capable of generating and you're comfortable with them defensively. They give you that reassurance that you're comfortable with the matchup anywhere."
Minnesota's checking line of Haula centering Nino Niederreiter and Fontaine might have been the team's most effective unit, generating four shots while keeping Kane off the score sheet, snapping his four-game point streak.
|Jonathan Toews (4) ASST: Marian Hossa (4), Bryan Bickell (2)|
1 - 0 CHI
|Brandon Saad (1) ASST: Bryan Bickell (3), Brent Seabrook (7)|
2 - 0 CHI
|Cody McCormick (1) ASST: Clayton Stoner (1), Erik Haula (3)|
2 - 1 CHI
|Bryan Bickell (5) ASST: Marian Hossa (5), Niklas Hjalmarsson (2)|
3 - 1 CHI
|EN - Brandon Saad (2) ASST: Marian Hossa (6), Niklas Hjalmarsson (3)|
4 - 1 CHI
|Clayton Stoner Cross checking against Brandon Saad|
|Nick Leddy Hi-sticking against Dany Heatley|
|Justin Fontaine Hooking against Patrick Kane|