Banged-up Bickell plays tough in finals

Bryan Bickell celebrates his game-tying goal with Jonathan Toews and Michal Handzus. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

BOSTON -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has gotten to the point that he has nearly perfected the art of sidestepping questions.

One he skillfully avoided throughout the Stanley Cup finals was why he waited until Game 4 to reunite the line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell. The trio had accounted for three goals and four assists in the Blackhawks’ Western Conference finals series-clinching Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

It seemed only logical to keep the line together as the Blackhawks rolled into the Stanley Cup finals to face the Boston Bruins. Quenneville opted to split them up, though, and explained it as wanting more balance throughout the team.

But Quenneville wasn’t telling the truth then, and he came clean about it after the Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup with a 3-2 win over the Bruins in Game 6 on Monday.

The real reason Quenneville broke up the line was he didn’t even know if Bickell would be able to play in the Stanley Cup finals because of an injury he suffered late in the series against the Kings.

“At the top of the series, we had to change the lines because Bryan Bickell had a serious injury right at the very end of the L.A. series,” Quenneville said on the ice after the game. “We didn’t even think we’d get him for a shift in this playoff series. He played the first three series on one leg and in Game 3 showed a little bit of strength.

“So Game 4, we put them back together, and it was like they didn’t miss a beat. They took off just like they exited the L.A. series. Bick played big minutes and heavy minutes against Detroit and L.A., and was able to do a lot more here as the series progressed here. It’s hard to believe he didn’t miss a shift in this whole playoff run.”

Bickell did more than simply not a miss shift. Since his return in Game 4, he emerged again as a playoff star just as he had earlier in the first three playoff series.

Bickell chipped in with two assists in the Blackhawks’ 6-5 overtime win in Game 4. He had another assist in a 3-1 win in Game 5. And as if he was saving his best for last, Bickell rescued the Blackhawks from defeat with 1:16 remaining in the third period on Monday, scoring the game-tying goal. Less than 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland provided the game-winner.

Bickell stated in April he felt the playoffs were his time of the year to shine, but he couldn’t have dreamed of producing as he did. He finished the playoffs with nine goals and eight assists in 23 games. By comparison, he had nine goals and 14 assists in 48 regular-season games.

“I felt good in the postseason,” Bickell said. “I think the postseason is my type of game. Being part of this, the way we did it and the season that we had, there’s no other way to finish it off than we did.”

Few people felt more pride in Bickell’s emergence in the playoffs than Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. Bickell has been one of Bowman’s projects over the years, and Bickell finally showed in the playoffs what Bowman always believed he could be.

“He’s worked hard to get himself into this position,” Bowman said. “He deserves the credit. He’s had a number of years in the minors. He’s worked his way up. Credit to him for sticking with it. He’s created some consistency this year. That’s the one thing that alluded him the past. Now, he’s got it going. He was huge for us. Proud of him.”