Two games have transpired, and although a clear favorite is emerging, this series still awaits a handle, an identity.
The Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild, 4-1, Sunday afternoon in a game that did not feel as close as the score indicated. This follows a Friday night opener, won by the Blackhawks 5-2 in a game that felt closer than the score indicated.
If all of that makes no sense, this will. It’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Bryan Bickell is feasting like he’s at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
“I love this time of year,” said Bickell, and not because it means he’s closer to fishing season. Stakes are raised, along with ticket demand, and the burly winger just elevates accordingly.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville described segments of Bickell’s winter as “ordinary,” noting that he trended upward enough at the end to merit inclusion on a line featuring two future Hall of Famers, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Bickell disputes a postulate that he actually tries harder now than, say, in January. But health combined with confidence negate any need for extensive analysis. He simply produces better results when the occasion matters more, and it’s not just that laser drive to bring the Blackhawks home safely with a 3-1 lead late in the third period. Bickell also started a pattern that began the team’s sixth straight victory.
Hossa was foiled on a splendid save by Ilya Bryzgalov, but because Toews followed more enthusiastically than the Wild, the Blackhawks were up 1-0 and Hossa had his first of three assists. Bickell also assisted on the first of two Brandon Saad scores late in the second. The Wild halved the margin early in the third, but on the whole, did not earn as many good looks at Corey Crawford as Friday night, or clank posts as frequently, or enjoy as much time with the puck. Bickell cast Minnesota as “kind of a sit-back” team, but you don’t upset the Colorado Avalanche in a rocking chair.
Niklas Hjalmarsson took a slapshot to the neck, went down in sheer agony, wound up with two assists and never missed a shift. Andrew Shaw never took one because of a Friday night lower body injury, and Brandon Bollig missed his first game of the year. Kris Versteeg returned, and Jeremy Morin was introduced to the playoffs by Cody McCormick, who rode the rookie toward the visiting bench, lowered his right glove, and tested Morin’s rib cage as if this sport embraced the 10-point must system. The other bench cried foul. No penalty.
In a perfect world for the Blackhawks, they would continue to outscore if not overwhelm Minnesota, win this tournament soon, then watch the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks abuse each other. The Wild should be enlivened by home ice, but their stars must shine. Because of injuries and illness, Minnesota has collected goalies as if they are rare coins.
Bryzgalov is not the problem, though. It’s solving riddles at the other net.