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Bryan Bickell to retire after final two games of the season

Bryan Bickell hoists the Stanley Cup at the Blackhawks rally in Grant Park on June 28, 2013. (Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times)

LOS ANGELES — Long ago, Bryan Bickell established his place in Blackhawks lore with his remarkable run through the 2013 playoffs, punctuated by his game-tying goal with 1:16 left in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston — the start of the now legendary “17 seconds.”

But Bickell’s NHL career should be remembered just as much for the grace with which he handled adversity in his final two seasons with the Hawks, and the tenacity with which he fought to return to the ice with the Hurricanes after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Bickell returned to the Hurricanes’ lineup Tuesday and will play in the last two games of the season. But that’ll be the end of his career. The 31-year-old announced Saturday that he’s retiring.

Bickell has been receiving monthly treatments since November and told NHL.com that it’s “like running low on gas” toward the end of each month. Bickell spent the last five months desperately working to get back to the NHL and to go out on his terms.

“From where I was at my peak to where I am now, there’s a difference in my game,” he told the website. “I don’t think I will ever get back to that point with the circumstances. For the last couple months, from where I was mentally and physically to where I am now, it’s a big change. I’m just happy to finish up here and move on.”

Bickell had nine goals and eight assists in 23 playoff games during the 2013 run, earning a four-year, $16 million contract that he could never quite live up to. He had seven goals during the 2014 run but started suffering mysterious symptoms — incorrectly diagnosed as vertigo at the time — during the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and never returned to form.

He handled his benching and demotion to Rockford with class, never ducking reporters and always talking openly about his mental and physical struggles with raw, emotional honesty. He always has been one of the most popular teammates and has been active in the community, most notably with his pitbull-rescue charity, “Bick’s Pits.”

He’s a great teammate, a great friend,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “He was one of those guys who always kept the boys loose. It was always about the team. Obviously, he went through some great moments. Later on, I think maybe when he was assuming lesser roles and playing in the minors, he’s been through a lot. You have a lot of respect for him as a person and as a player.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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