While it might sound a bit convoluted, a playoff goal by forward Bryan Bickell in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena three years ago could have played a part in him being with the Carolina Hurricanes this season.
In May 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks trailed the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in their second-round playoff series. In Game 6, played in “The Joe,” the Blackhawks were behind 2-1 entering the third period – their season in the balance – before rallying for a 4-3 victory.
Bickell’s goal gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead. “That turned the game around, for sure,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday.
Peters knows from first-hand experience. He was behind the Wings bench, then an assistant coach for Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
The goal was one of nine Bickell scored in the 2013 postseason for the Blackhawks, who won the Wings series, then rolled on to win the Stanley Cup. That earned Bickell a four-year, $16 million contract extension.
Flash forward three years. Having spent a big chunk of the 2015-16 season with the Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s American Hockey League affiliate, Bickell was deemed expendable by the ’Hawks, who wanted to move his contract to gain salary-cap space.
The Blackhawks found a taker in the Hurricanes, but only if Chicago added in Teuvo Teravainen, a former first-round pick and promising young forward. Chicago agreed and the trade was made in June as the Canes sent two draft picks to the Blackhawks in return.
Bickell, with a $4.5 million salary this season, was the expensive part of the deal for the Canes, and with no guarantee that at 30 he still could play at the NHL level.
“What happened last year, it wasn’t the ideal spot, being down in the minor leagues,” Bickell said Monday. “I know I can play in this league. And it’s a huge year for this team. They brought pieces in to get that push to the playoffs, and I think they know my playoff history, what I’ve done and experienced.”
Bickell has been a fourth-line winger in the Canes’ first five games. He also has been used on the power play, planting his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame in front of the crease to create an eclipse for the opposing goalie.
“He’s been good,” Peters said. “He’s big body, he skates well, he’s playing physical and holding onto pucks. He’s a factor.”
The top of the crease is not a fun place to be, Bickell said, smiling. There’s bumping, grinding and swinging sticks.
“It’s tough,” he said. “A lot of people, that’s what they need to do in this league – get in front of the goalies, create havoc, get rebounds. With all the skill we have on our team, you need guys in front of the net.”
And someone to score. Bickell’s last NHL goal came in April 2015 against Minnesota.
“It’s going to be my role here to make it hard for the goalie and hopefully get some greasy goals,” he said.
The Canes (1-2-2), the only NHL team to start the season with six road games, will be in Detroit on Tuesday to face the Wings at Joe Louis Arena. It’s Carolina’s only trip to Detroit this year and a last visit to The Joe in its final season as the Wings’ home arena.
The Canes could be without forward Jeff Skinner, who did not practice Monday at PNC Arena but did off-ice conditioning. Peters was not sure after practice if Skinner would play but said, “I think he’s OK.”
The Red Wings (4-2-0) have won their last four, scoring five goals against both Ottawa and Nashville. The Canes, in contrast, were beaten 6-3 by the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
Bickell will take a last look around The Joe, maybe thinking back to that Game 6, when Jonathan Toews centered a pass and Bickell, planted in front of the crease, knocked in a go-ahead goal. A greasy goal.
“To win the Cup was special and that (series) was a big steppingstone,” he said. “Now it’s the last year for The Joe. That building has a lot of history, a lot of fond memories.”