Of all the top-level, high-salary talent that makes up the the Chicago Blackhawks' roster, two of the biggest heroes of Game 2's 4-3 overtime triumph barely make a million dollars in combined salary.
One player spent a good portion of the 2011-12 season in Joel Quenneville's doghouse. As recently as two months ago, the other was toiling in Rockford. That Bryan Bickell and Brandon Bollig would factor heavily in a 'Hawks playoff win is a pretty unlikely scenario.
However, that's just what happened Saturday night in Phoenix as Chicago evened its first-round series with the Coyotes at a game apiece.
Bickell knocked a puck out of the air and into the net for Chicago's first power play goal of the series to give the 'Hawks a 1-0 advantage early in the game. Down 2-1 in the second period, Bollig's wrister beat Mike Smith for his first NHL goal.
After the Blackhawks pulled off another late bid to tie the contest in the third period, Bickell struck again. Taking a feed from Viktor Stalberg off of a steal of a clearing attempt, Bickell fired the game-winner through Smith's five hole.
Bickell, who was also credited with seven hits on the night, won the traveling team belt given out by the players. He also received first "star of the game" honors and a host of media at his locker.
Saturday's big night completes quite a turnaround for Bickell, who was a frequent scratch during the middle of the regular season. After a strong playoff effort last spring in Vancouver, Bickell endured offseason wrist surgery and a disappointing sophomore campaign.
Bollig was brought up late in the season not to score goals but to provide muscle lost when John Scott was traded to the New York Rangers. Most thought that the big forward would be a spectator in the postseason in favor of a more skilled player like Michael Frolik or former Rockford teammate Jimmy Hayes.
Bollig only played 8:07 of Saturday's game but helped fill in for Andrew Shaw, who was given a game misconduct in the second period. Bollig could only have scored a goal in an NHL playoff game in his wildest dreams back at the start of the season. Heck, even mid-February it seemed the stuff of fantasy.
There were lots of performances that helped wrest a victory from the hands of defeat. Brent Seabrook was clutch again, sending the one-timer to the net that was redirected into the goal with five seconds remaining in regulation.
Corey Crawford stopped 30 of 33 shots, including some huge saves late in the third when the game was on the line. Stalberg had some big opportunities and made the big defensive play that set Bickell up for the winning shot.
This is exactly what happens in the playoffs that make the games so much fun to watch. Anyone can be a hero. Even two guys who are basically minimum-salary players can have an impact on Chicago's playoff fortunes.
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