VANCOUVER, B.C. – Bryan Bickell showed was fully recovered from a scary fall one night ago by outscoring his more famous linemates.
Bickell scored the game’s lone goal, his first of the season, and rookie backup goaltender Antti Niemi made 30 saves Sunday as the Blackhawks blanked the Canucks 1-0 before a sellout crowd of 18,818 at General Motors Place.
“It’s the first one,” said Bickell. “Hopefully, there’s many more to come.”
Bickell was questionable after leaving Saturday’s game in Edmonton in the first period after colliding with Dustin Penner. As Bickell fell, his helmet came off and he hit his head on the ice.
“I had a little mishap,” said Bickell. “But I shook it off and I felt good (Sunday) morning. So the doctor said I was good – and it worked out.”
After undergoing an afternoon workout to test his balance and passing the NHL’s baseline concussion test, Bickell was cleared for action.
He showed no ill effects while playing on Chicago’s top line with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who saw his nine-game point streak, one of the longest in the NHL this season, come to an end.
The Blackhawks (15-5-2) extended their winning streak to seven games as they avenged a loss to the Canucks (12-11-0) earlier this season.
“They beat us in our building in that game and took it to us so we wanted to do the same tonight,” said Toews. “We’ll pick our spots as far as physical play, and I think there is a growing hatred between these two teams. It’s pretty obvious.”
Bickell finally opened the scoring at 1:12 of the third period as he poked the puck in after it caromed off skates and came to him in front of a gaping Vancouver net.
Playing only his 13th game at the NHL level, Bickell had not scored a big-league goal since April 8, 2007 against Dallas. He spent the past two seasons with the Rockford Ice Dogs of the AHL.
“It’s been a roller-coaster,” said Bickell, who was called up during Chicago’s current road trip. “I’ve been up and down since the start of the year. It feels good just to be a part of the team and hang out and go on this road with the guys instead of going back and forth.”
He was also lucky just to be playing. He missed about half of the 2008-09 season in the minors after suffering thumb and eye injuries.
Niemi, who also spent last season with Rockford, earned his second shutout of the season. The Chicago netminder stood out after sitting on the bench the previous six games.
“It’s kind of hard, but I don’t want to think like it’s hard,” said Niemi. “I just want to come to practice every day, and when they tell me to play, I’m ready.”
According to his coach, he was.
“It was a goalie win,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “Hopefully, you get five or six of them over the course of the year, but that’s definitely one of them. I thought our (defence) played very well, as well, but he was spectacular.”
Niemi, a 26-year-old native of Vantaa, Finland, has picked up his two shutouts in only six appearances this season. He breathed a sigh of relief when Canucks defenceman Alex Edler hit the post with just over six minutes left in the game.
On his best save of the night, late in the second period, Niemi stopped Steve Bernier on a breakaway after he came out of the penalty box. He helped Quenneville earn the 499th win of his career.
“It means I’ve been around for a while, and I’m fortunate to be on some good teams,” said Quenneville with a chuckle. “I really like the situation we’re in right now. I feel very fortunate.”
The game had the potential of being a high-scoring affair as the Blackhawks scored 12 goals in their previous two games while the Canucks scored 13. Vancouver also had prolific forward Daniel Sedin back in the lineup after he missed 18 games with a broken bone in his foot. He suffered the injury Oct. 17 against Dallas.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault felt his club was unlucky not to score.
“We played our best period in the third and outchanced them six to one, and lost the third 1-0 on a broken play,” said Vigneault. “Their goaltender was real good. We tried real hard to beat him. We had good net presence, we had good shots, just couldn’t get the bounce or the right screen at the right time to put it past him.”
Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, who faced 17 shots but still made some clutch saves, did not take any consolation from his goaltending effort as the Canucks lost to the club that eliminated them in the 2008-09 post-season.
“It was a playoff-type atmosphere and the type of game we want to be involved in,” Luongo said. “That being said, good teams find ways to win these games or at least bring it to overtime … We let a couple points slip away here.”
NOTES: Before his injury, Daniel Sedin had not missed a game since 2006-07 . . . Canucks tough guy Darcy Hordichuk was scratched for the fourth straight game. Defencemen Shane O’Brien and Aaron Rome also received the night off . . . Chicago lost Andrew Ebbett to Minnesota on waivers. The Wild becomes his third team this season. He started the campaign with Anaheim . . . Blackhawks defenceman Jordan Hendry was scratched.