When you look back at the Blackhawks season before the Olympic break a lot of things had gone well with their record, goals and standings but a couple of guys were not competing at the same level that Blackhawks fans had come to expect on a nightly basis and with the playoffs right around the corner these Blackhawks need to make more contributions every game.
First, Kris Versteeg hasn’t gone on some crazy hot streak but his play has looked much better since returning from the Olympic break. Versteeg scored his 100th goal of the his NHL career at Soldier Field and picked up an assist last night. Versteeg was Stan Bowman’s big splash pre-trade deadline but really hadn’t been very exciting or consistent. Versteeg may not have been or still is 100% healthy or healed after his knee injury, but after a mid-season 3 week vacation his play looks like it has a little more jump in the skate and his name is finding the score sheet.
Secondly and maybe most importantly Bryan Bickell’s game is turning the corner. Bickell seemed to be playing better right before the break after getting a healthy scratch night from Quenneville. Bickell as we all know made his cash in last season’s post season scoring 9 times including the first of two goals in 17 seconds in Game 6 at the Finals. Bickell like Versteeg was obviously not 100% but being a hockey player played anyway, but now the perfectly timed Olympic break gave him the rest and relaxation to come back strong and he already has two goals with both of them being in front of the net. I will be totally ready to proclaim Bickell returned when he throws a big check, but until then if he keeps going to the net and scoring Hawks fans will be thrilled.
Lastly, not that he was playing poorly, but it was great to see Andrew Shaw putting pucks in the net again. Shaw knows his role and he plays much bigger than he actually is whether it’s checking or playing in front of the net. Shaw scored in the first period but he really arrived in the 2nd period with a big check that ended with a Toews goal and then a redirect goal standing in front of the Columbus net. Shaw is an annoyance to opponents when he’s on his game, and his game was there all night long at the United Center.
The ultimate team game needs everyone playing well to win in the playoffs and with these three finding their games at the right time the confidence Stan Bowman spoke of after the trade deadline saying these are my guys may be rewarded again!!
What do you think? Have they turned the corner or was Columbus just a mirage?
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