In typical hockey fashion, the question of whether defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and left wing Bryan Bickell will return to the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup Monday for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final was never definitively answered by Coach Joel Quenneville -- or anyone else -- after the team’s morning skate at the United Center.
But the smile on Van Riemsdyk’s face -- and the fact he invited most of his family to the game -- offered strong hints that he will play against the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first NHL game since November, when he suffered the first of two injuries that derailed his season.
In addition, Bickell’s disclosure that a bout with vertigo had kept him out of the first two games of the Final ended speculation that he had been suffering from a concussion and indicated that he’s fit and able to return.
“It’s exciting that it’s gone and hopefully it doesn’t come back,” said Bickell, whose physicality is valued by the Blackhawks. “It was frustrating for something like that to come up. It’s frustrating mentally. But guys stepped in. We have a lot of depth.”
The teams split the first two games in Tampa. The Blackhawks are 7-1 at home in the playoffs and Tampa Bay is 7-3 on the road.
Bickell, who had five assists and 12 penalty minutes in 17 games, said he was able to learn something about the Lightning while watching the last two games.
“It’s tough to watch it up there and see the plays develop off their speed,” he said. “They’re kind of similar to Minnesota, where they’re going to play check-first and they’re going to get their offensive chances from mistakes.
“For us, we need to play a similar way, play smart defensively, and not give them any reason to come down and give them opportunities against us. If we play defense-first, we’ll get offensive chances.”
Bickell has often played on the same line with Patrick Kane, who was held scoreless in the first two games of the Final. “Hopefully, I can get him going if I get the nod,” Bickell said. “I played with him a couple of series before. Just to give him the puck and open the space up for him and just get in front. He’s a guy that if you give him the puck, good things are going to happen.”
Quenneville said he likes the rugged element of Bickell’s game. “I think he brings that speed and pace to his game,” he said. “Gets on forecheck, goes to the net, can be disruptive. Got a nice shot as well. We need him to bring some energy as well.’
He would bring “real steadiness to the back end,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a real good patience with the puck. Got good reads. Good stick. Positionally aware.
“I thought he came out into the team out of the blue [and was] outstanding at the beginning of the season for us. I think he adds another dimension to our back end.”
Van Riemsdyk fractured his left kneecap in November and broke his right wrist in April while rehabilitating from the knee injury. The New Jersey native said he knows it will be challenging to jump into a fast-paced series after not having played for so long.
“That’s something I think you’ve got to be aware of and know that it’s going to be ramped up, being the Finals,” he said. “Getting to watch a little bit, as much as you don’t like watching, allows you to get a little bit of a perspective and watch things and see things they’re doing that maybe if you’re on ice or on the bench you might not see as much. ...
“You’ve definitely got to be ready for the quick pace and make quick, simple decisions, make those plays that are right in front of you.”
Van Riemsdyk had been paired with Michal Rozsival, Rundblad and Duncan Keith at various times before his knee injury. He said he hopes to quickly get back to the level he had reached before he was hurt.
“Just being out there, the way I was, playing how I was and just knowing it didn’t take being flashy, it didn’t take trying to wow everyone every night. Just be the reliable guy they’re asking me to be,” he said. “Just make those smart plays, be good defensively, and they’ll reward you. They don’t ask too much. I’m just trying to do everything that they ask.”