VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Although Chicago is loaded with big-name scoring stars, two unlikely players led the Blackhawks to their latest victory.
Bickell wasn't even sure he could play after being helped off the ice in Edmonton the previous night and Niemi was making his first appearance in 2½ weeks.
"Spectacular," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Niemi. "What an effort. What a game. That was a goalie win, hopefully you get five or six over the course of a year and that's one. I thought our 'D' played real well but he was spectacular."
After Niemi made several great saves to keep it scoreless through two periods, defenseman Brian Campbell set up the only goal early in the third, skating in from the point, eluding a check on the boards, and cutting into the crease. He lost the puck in a crowd in front but it squirted right to Bickell at the far side for a tap-in goal behind sprawled goalie Roberto Luongo.
It was Bickell's first goal since April 2007, and it came a little more than 24 hours after he was forced to leave the game in Edmonton after hitting his head on the ice during his second shift. He didn't return against the Oilers, but was cleared to play after passing baseline concussion tests Sunday afternoon.
"I did a little workout, some balance stuff to see if everything was there and my head wasn't spinning, then I had to take the NHL test and they said I was good to go," said Bickell, who was playing only his sixth game of the season.
Despite the injury, Bickell went straight to the net on the goal. Playing on the No. 1 line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews after spending most of this season -- and all of last year -- in the minors, he knows it's his job.
"For me it's go get the puck in the corner, feed the skill guys and get to the net," Bickell said. "Our game plan is to get traffic in front of Luongo and it worked. I got the rebound and luckily it was the game winner."
Niemi did the rest, making a couple more brilliant stops as the Blackhawks won their seventh consecutive game. He got a glove on Henrik Sedin's wide-open shot from the slot, robbed Alex Burrows with his left pad, and got a break when Alex Edler hit the post with 6:19 left.
"Maybe the most confident [I've felt] in the NHL today," Niemi said. "I don't know why, but I didn't worry about anything else, just make the next save."
The Canucks welcomed top goal-scorer Daniel Sedin back to the top line after missing more than six weeks and 18 games with a broken foot. But it wasn't enough to solve Niemi, who got a rare start after watching Cristobal Huet play his sixth straight Saturday night during a 5-2 victory in Edmonton.
"They had nothing all night, then get a cheesy one in the third," visibly frustrated Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. "It hits a couple legs and goes right on [Bickell's] tape for a tap-in from the blue. It's frustrating. I definitely thought we should have won this one tonight. We dominated the game."
They just couldn't beat Niemi, who was 3-1-1 with a shutout in five appearances this year. But the regulation loss was against the Canucks and the 26-year-old hadn't played in 2½ weeks.
Despite that, there wasn't any rust in his game.
Niemi threw out his right pad to take an empty net and sure goal away from Kesler atop the crease on a power play late in the first period. He was even better late in the second period, stuffing Daniel Sedin in tight, Steve Bernier on a breakaway and robbing Mason Raymond in the final minute.
"We've got do a better job getting in front and not letting him see," said Luongo, who finished with 16 saves. "And when we get those rebounds in close we've got to put them high because nowadays all the goalies cover low."
Kane was held without a point for the first time in 10, ending his streak at 13 points, but started the play that led to the only goal.
Chicago's six-game winning streak coincided with the return of captain Toews, who missed six games after being rocked by an open-ice hit from defenseman Willie Mitchell in Vancouver's 3-2 victory on Oct. 21. While there was plenty of post-whistle scrums between the teams, it seemed to have more to do with the rivalry built up when the Blackhawks eliminated Vancouver in the second round of last year's playoffs, and less to do with a hit even Toews labeled clean.
"We'll pick our spots as far as physical play," Toews said. "I think there is a growing hatred between these two teams. It's pretty obvious."
|The Blackhawks celebrate a rare goal by Bryan Bickell (rear) early in the third period. (Getty Images)|
|Chicago (15-5-2) «||0||0||1||1|
Save Pct.: 1.000
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|01:12||Bryan Bickell (1), Slap Shot. Assist: Campbell, Toews|
|45.0||Sharp, 2 min, Slashing|
|04:27||Eager, 5 min, Fighting|
|04:27||Rypien, 5 min, Fighting|
|13:04||Kesler, 2 min, High-Sticking|
|17:36||Burrows, 2 min, Cross-Checking|
|17:36||Ladd, 2 min, High-Sticking|
|17:36||Byfuglien, 2 min, Holding|
|14:03||Eager, 2 min, Roughing|
|14:03||Bernier, 2 min, Roughing|
|12:33||Campbell, 2 min, High-Sticking|
|12:33||Raymond, 2 min, High-Sticking|
|Shots On Goal|
|Attendance - 18810|
|Referees - Gord Dwyer, Dennis LaRue|
|Linesmen - Lonnie Cameron, Brad Lazarowich|