Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell ready for another chance

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Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell ready for another chance

The bus rides Bryan Bickell took with the Rockford IceHogs this season rekindled memories.

“I remember those old days, seven-hour trips on a bus. Maybe when I was 21 it was easier on the body, but just turned 30, so it was tough,” Bickell said with a grin. “It’s nice to get back and hopefully I won’t have to do that again. I’m here to play my best and do whatever it takes.”

This season has been a humbling one for Bickell, who has spent most of it with the Blackhawks’ minor-league affiliate. But as the regular season winds down the left wing is getting another chance, starting Thursday against the St. Louis Blues. Teammates said it was good to see Bickell again.

“You’re happy for him,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “He’s got a big smile on his face. It’s just good to see him. He’s such a good guy and having him in the locker room is always a nice thing.”

[MORE HAWKS: Marian Hossa out, Bryan Bickell in vs. Blues]

Bickell skated on the Blackhawks’ third line with Andrew Desjardins and Dale Weise, a line that should definitely bring a physical presence. Coach Joel Quenneville said Bickell must bring that physical game regardless.

“I think that’s one of his better attributes because he’s a big body, he can play against top guys and can wear a defense down,” Quenneville said. “He can get on the puck quickly, has a big shot, speed and gets to the net. We always talk about the appreciation for having a power forward that can create space, generate offense or can get the defensemen aware of being on the ice. I think Bicks can do that. But the consistency is what we’re looking for.”

The postseason is where Bickell has traditionally done well; it’s where he earned his four-year, $16 million deal during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final run. But that consistency of which Quenneville spoke of has been the issue. The 2015-16 season has been frustrating, at least at the NHL level. Entering this season still fighting the vertigo that cost him a few 2015 Stanley Cup games, Bickell couldn’t find any consistency. His latest stint in Rockford has been since January, but he’s played well there, recording 15 goals and 16 assists in 31 games. But it’s what he does here that’s going to count.

[SHOP: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

“I think every game’s got to be real good from the situation I was in this year,” Bickell said. “It was tough. But to see these guys again and to be back up here, it’s lifting. Every game I’ve got to play like it’s my last, and do what I need to do.”

How Bickell is used going forward is uncertain. Quenneville said Bickell gets his opportunity vs. the Blues, “and we’ll see how it goes going into next week.” Bickell was reminded of his early Rockford days in his latest stint. He also took some valuable new lessons from the experience, and hopes he can apply those here now.

“Being positive is the biggest thing,” Bickell said. “I think going down there, I didn’t want to be a sore thumb. Have a positive attitude and work hard and I’m happy to be back up here for a couple games going into one of the times I like the most, the playoffs. Looking forward to it.” 

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!