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Blackhawks' Bickell could be X-factor vs. Wild again

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- The Minnesota Wild tend to bring out the best in Bryan Bickell during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are banking on it happening again in the Western Conference Second Round as they prepare to face Minnesota for the third consecutive postseason. Bickell, a 6-foot-4, 223-pound power forward, had a combined seven goals and three assists in the Blackhawks' series victories against Minnesota the previous two seasons.

Bryan Bickell
Left Wing - CHI
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 2
SOG: 4 | +/-: 2
Last year, he scored four goals and had two assists in a second-round series that Chicago won in six games.

"I don’t know [why]," Bickell said. "I have to look over the video to see how I scored those goals to see what I need to do to be successful against this team. It's a new season, a new series. Things change. Different players need to step up."

It would help if Bickell took the lead again. He might not have the answer about why he's so successful against the Wild, but a big part of the reason is his size and strength.

The Wild collapse quickly around the net within their defensive zone and try to prevent scoring chances off rebounds. They keep shooters from getting to the middle of the ice for shot attempts and block a lot of shots. Off those blocks, they look for loose pucks to kick start their transition game.

Guys like Bickell, who can impart their will at times, can throw a wrench in those plans. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville knows it's tough to handle, especially when Bickell is motivated and playing with high-skilled forwards who can take advantage of the ice he opens up.

That's likely the reason Bickell was promoted from the third line to left wing of the second line Monday in Chicago's first practice for the series against Minnesota. If the lines stay that way for Game 1, Bickell will asked to use his size to free up center Brad Richards and right wing Patrick Kane.

"It’s a factor," Quenneville said. "Getting to the net against this team is what makes him so effective. Just getting a shot on net sometimes is an achievement. We’re still going to need a net-front presence."

Bickell is well aware of it, too. He's had plenty of experience against the Wild the past two seasons and knows their style of play is something that caters to his strongest assets.  And that was without 6-foot-6 goalie Devan Dubnyk in Minnesota's net.

"That falls more into my hands," Bickell said. "I'm not a [Patrick Kane] kind of player. I'm not quite as skilled or dream to be. But for us to [win this series] it's going to be one of those muck and get the puck to the net [series], create havoc in front because Dubnyk has been outstanding since he's been there."

Bickell finished the first round with no goals and two assists against the Nashville Predators, but he still impacted the series with his size. He did a good job screening Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, including on the goal scored by defenseman Brent Seabrook to win Game 4 in triple overtime.

"I thought he had a good first round," Quenneville said. "I thought he did a lot of good things. He was close around the net and he was a factor with the overtime goal. It was pretty big the other day [in Game 6] with his net-front presence. That’s what we’re looking for."

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