Blackhawks

Will Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell thrive vs. Wild again?

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Will Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell thrive vs. Wild again?

Bryan Bickell is aware of the numbers.

Whenever the Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild, Bickell’s name is automatically brought up. That’s what happens when your strongest numbers come against one team. But Bickell’s game has been trending in the right direction, to borrow a coach Joel Quenneville quote, since the playoffs began.

Still, the Wild seem to bring out the best in Bickell, and time will tell if that team has that same effect on the Blackhawks forward.

Bickell has 15 goals in a combined 23 regular-season and playoff games vs. the Wild, who the Blackhawks face in their second-round series beginning on Friday night at the United Center. His playoff breakdown against the Wild: four goals and two assists in six second-round games last season, three goals and an assist in five first-round games in 2013.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks defense needs to be strong vs. Wild]

When Bickell was asked if drawing the Wild evoked a gleam in his eye, he got a grin on his face.

“Yeah, I saw a couple stats the last couple years,” Bickell said following Monday’s practice. “You know, whoever it (is) going to be we need to play a team game. It’s not just me. (I’ve) seen the back of the net, and hopefully that trend keeps on going.”

On Monday, Bickell was on the second line with Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. The trio was put together during Game 4 against the Nashville Predators and was on the ice — with Bickell at the net — when Brent Seabrook scored the game-winning goal.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get a Bryan Bickell jersey right here]

Quenneville also smiled when talking of Bickell’s success level vs. Minnesota, especially this time of year.

“Minnesota or the playoffs: Hopefully the combo connects again,” Quenneville said. “I thought he had a good first round. I thought he did a lot of good things. I think he was skating extremely well. I thought that physical presence was there. He didn’t have the production that we’ve seen in the playoffs in the past, but I think you play like that with Bick he brings other elements that still make a contribution to your game. He was close around the net, and he was a factor with the overtime goal. It was pretty big the other day with his net-front presence. That’s what we’re looking for.”

As Bickell said, it can’t come down to one player, even one who’s done so well against a particular team. Against the Predators, many chipped in offensively. Still, it’s always nice when a player, especially one whose confidence wavered throughout the regular season, faces a team against which he has tremendous confidence.

“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,” Bickell said. “It’s a new season, a new series. Things change. Different players need to step up. We’re looking forward when that game comes.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”