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Switching Bickell to first line a winning move for Hawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- There are moments of satisfaction in a coach's life, times when he makes a move that helps his team win. Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks had one of those moments on Saturday.

Quenneville rejiggered his lines for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, then watched each of his new pairings score a second-period goal in a 2-1 victory at United Center.

Quenneville moved 6-foot-4, 233-pound power forward Bryan Bickell from the third line to the top line with captain Jonathan Toews and two-way star Marian Hossa – then put Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane with 6-foot-5 center Michal Handzus.

"I liked it," Quenneville said of the bigger top line facing a more physically imposing team than Chicago saw against the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinals. "It was efficient. A lot of puck time in offensive-zone shifts. They're dangerous off the rush. Defensively, down low in our end, a lot of kill plays as well."

Sharp and Hossa scored the Blackhawks' goals almost four minutes apart in the second period to overcome a 1-0 deficit, but Chicago controlled most of the first 40 minutes. The Blackhawks held a 17-2 lead in shots after the first period alone, extended it to 31-14 through 40 minutes and used their puck-possession game to keep the Kings' attack at bay in the third period.

Bickell's size and strength up front played a big role in the win. He fired five of Chicago's 36 shots at Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, had two others blocked and missed the net once. Bickell also threw his weight around by racking up six of the Blackhawks' 38 hits and even got credited with a takeaway.

Heading into Game 2 on Sunday night at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS), Quenneville has to be feeling good about keeping his top two forward units intact. Bickell liked the results as well.

"We had a lot of good chances," Bickell said. "I had a couple chances I could've scored [on], but I felt like we had a lot of good offensive time and not a lot of defensive time. That's what's good if we can keep doing that."

He pointed to the first two periods as prime examples.

Despite a fluke goal by the Kings' Justin Williams at 14:23 of the first –Williams got a piece of Dave Bolland's clearing attempt in the low slot and the puck floated onto the net -- the Blackhawks dominated the opening period. They were even better in the second and it didn't happen by accident.

Sharp scored his goal by dropping a pass to defenseman Johnny Oduya for a long shot and then charging to the net to bang home the rebound. Hossa's goal was a deflection of a point shot by Duncan Keith – who'd gotten a nice pass from behind the net by Bickell. A few seconds prior to making the pass, Bickell won a puck battle and then carried the puck behind the net before spotting Keith open.

"Our line, I think we controlled the boards really well, got it back to the [defense] and then you see Hossa's goal getting in the net and [he] had a good stick," Bickell said. "That's what we need to take and that's what we need to keep up."

Bickell, the left wing on Chicago's third line for most of the regular season, continues to impress in the playoffs. His assist on Hossa's goal was his second of the postseason to go with five goals. He's fifth in scoring on the Blackhawks during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, tied with Handzus (one goal, six assists).

"I think he's been great," Keith said. "He's been rock-solid for us all playoffs long. I think any line that's he's on, because of his size, his physicality out there, he provides a lot of space for his linemates. He does a good job getting it on the forecheck for us. It was a nice pass by him to throw it back to me there. I had some time to walk it."

Hossa and Toews had time and space to do their thing, as well. Bickell's linemates each put three shots on goal and combined for three takeaways.

"[Bickell] is a great skater and when he's moving his feet he's so dangerous crushing people and opening up the space for us," Hossa said. "Big body and he's having unbelievable playoffs."

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