CHICAGO – Bryan Bickell waited patiently as he skated in front of the net, and then slammed it home when he saw a small opening.
And just like that, the drought was over.
Bickell sparked Chicago’s big second period with his first goal of the season, helping the Blackhawks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Saturday night.
“That one was a nice one,” said Bickell, who yelled in celebration as his teammates skated over to congratulate the rugged forward. “It’s nice to get that first one. A full team game was huge.”
Brandon Pirri added a goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who have won four of five. Michael Kostka scored his first career goal against his former team, and Corey Crawford had 19 saves.
Toronto centre Dave Bolland was kept off the scoresheet in his first game in Chicago since he was traded to his hometown Maple Leafs in June. Bolland helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in the previous four seasons and received a warm welcome from the sellout crowd.
“It’s always fun to come back here, but as a team as a whole, don’t think it was a great performance for us,” he said.
Nazem Kadri scored his third goal for the Maple Leafs, who have dropped two in a row. Jonathan Bernier made 37 saves.
Bernier failed to grab a stopped shot in the second, and Bickell made the most of the opportunity. He skated around a prone Bernier before stuffing it into the net to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 5:32.
It was just the second point on the season for the 6-foot-4 Bickell, who is being counted on for more scoring after he got a big new contract during the summer. He began the season on Chicago’s top line, but looks more at home in his spot lower in the lineup.
“It was a big summer coming into this year,” he said. “I felt it was a lot of pressure to be on my shoulders to produce, and I think I was getting away from the game what I did before that worked.
“Now we switched it up and hopefully I can get my confidence back and just figure out my game.”
Toronto tied it at 1 when Blackhawks defenceman Johnny Oduya was unable to handle a loose puck and Joffrey Lupul made a slick pass to Kadri for the power-play score. But the Blackhawks turned up the pressure from there.
Kostka’s shot at 10:28 went off a screened Bernier and into the net in his second game with Chicago. The defenceman played 35 games for the Maple Leafs last season in his first year in the NHL.
Pirri then got a terrific pass from Brandon Saad and directed it past Bernier to make 3-1 with 3:11 remaining in the second. Pirri scored his first career goal in Chicago’s previous game, a 3-2 shootout loss to St. Louis on Thursday.
“Playing with great players here, it makes your life easy,” Pirri said.
Toronto had a chance to get back in the game in the third, but it failed to convert two power plays and went 1 for 5 with the man advantage for the game.
“They play a pretty high-tempo game and we didn’t seem to be able to keep the pace up until the third period,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “Then we got desperate and we started to play a lot more of a skating game and do a few things that we should be doing for 60 minutes versus 20 minutes.”
Bolland was drafted by Chicago in 2004 and played for the Blackhawks for parts of seven seasons, growing into one of the NHL’s biggest pests and gaining a reputation for his penchant for big goals.
Bolland had three goals and three assists when Chicago beat Philadelphia in six games to win the Stanley Cup in 2010. But his biggest play with the Blackhawks happened in his last game with the team, a memorable rebound goal at Boston that clinched another NHL title last summer.
Bolland said before the game he wasn’t sure what kind of reaction he would get from the crowd, but he was welcomed with a hearty round of applause when he was introduced for the ceremonial puck drop. The Blackhawks then paid tribute to the 27-year-old centre with a video presentation during a break in the first period, and the crowd of 21,801 responded with a standing ovation.
Bolland stood in front of the Maple Leafs’ bench and waved as the fans cheered. He managed to keep a straight face, but seemed moved by the response.
“It was great,” he said. “I was here for a while before and it was always a great organization and great fans. They were always great to me.”
NOTES: Leafs F James van Riemsdyk was back in the lineup after missing two straight games with back spasms. … The Blackhawks wore white warm-up jerseys with lavender lettering as part of “Hockey Fights Cancer Night,” and the coaches wore lavender ties. All the jerseys and ties will be autographed for an online auction benefiting the team’s charity organization and local cancer awareness organizations … Fs Trevor Smith, Carter Ashton and David Clarkson were scratched for the Maple Leafs. … Ds Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival and F Ben Smith were scratched for the Blackhawks.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap