Often, Bickell can pinpoint the primary factor being his confidence. If he's confident, he's normally playing well. If he lacks it, his play pays the price.
The good news for the Blackhawks is, after enduring more lows than highs throughout the regular season, Bickell has regained his confidence just in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Bickell was among the team's leaders in possession over the past six games after he returned from an injury in early April. He had a 64.3 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had 74 shots for and 41 against when he was on the ice) in the past six games. He also had one goal, two assists and 14 shots on goal during that span.
Another important ingredient for Bickell's confidence has been Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville showing his own belief in him. Bickell averaged nearly 12 minutes a game in April.
"I'm just getting confident," Bickell said after a recent practice. "[Quenneville's] getting more confident in me to put me in different situations and me getting confident in myself to play good. I think confidence is one of my things I've been trying to work on in my career. There have been ups and downs. To have confidence now going into the playoffs is important."
A slow start to the regular season first and then a knee injury negatively impacted Bickell's confidence for stretches of the regular season. He had a couple of positive swings, including scoring in four consecutive games in late October, but he wasn't able to consistently play at that level. In January, he had one point and a minus-7 rating in 12 games. Quenneville even made him a healthy scratch for a game.
Bickell began improving his play when the Blackhawks returned from the Olympic break. He scored in two of the first four games, and Quenneville increased his minutes again. Bickell was derailed again when he suffered an upper-body injury against the St. Louis Blues on March 19 and missed six games, but he found his form again quickly in his return.
Now as the Blackhawks open the playoffs against the Blues on Thursday, Bickell hopes that confidence will lead to similar results he had last season, where he had 17 points, including nine goals during their Stanley Cup run. He scored in nine different playoff games, including Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals when he had the game-tying goal in the third period against the Boston Bruins.
"I don't want to be the one-hit wonder," Bickell said. "I feel the playoffs are more my kind of game. For the last couple of games [I have taken] steps to where I need to be, and I know coming into the playoffs it's important to play my game to help this team.
"I think [I play well in the playoffs because] the physicality, the [simplicity]. There's not much tic-tac goals, the pretty plays. I know I don't have much of those in my bag of tricks. Just simplify, straight lines and get to the net and get the greasy goals and the second opportunities."
Bickell will be reunited with Patrick Kane on a line for Game 1 against the Blues. The two were often together during the playoffs last season.
Kane believes the key for Bickell is not thinking too much about his offensive game.
"He's been playing really well," Kane said. "I think the thing with him is when he plays physical and tries not to worry about scoring too much, that's when I think he's a little more effective. We'll try to tell him the same thing.
"I'm the same way. When you tend to think about scoring, sometimes it doesn't happen as much as when you think about playing the game the right way and trying to create something. I don't think we're trying to go in and be the saviors and score every shift we're out there. We'll try to keep the momentum when we're out there, try to keep the puck, play with the puck and hopefully get some chances along the way."
Quenneville is optimistic Bickell can be a difference-maker for the Blackhawks again in the playoffs this season.
"Certainly he had a tough season to begin, but he's showing every bit of indications that he's back to where he was last year come playoff time or at least trending into the playoffs the way he did last year, as well," Quenneville said. "But he's a big-bodied guy that can make an impact on games and certainly feel a lot better with his game and the line he's going to play on, going to get some energy off of that, get some offense from him, get some forechecking and pressure. But he seems like he's got more pace to his game, and I think that made him at the beginning of the season, all of a sudden here he's back and let's look to sustain that."