The Blackhawks have enjoyed a rare postseason privilege this week: off days.
While the Eastern Conference second-round series continue on Tuesday, the Blackhawks have relaxed, practiced a time or two, and relaxed some more. As far as getting completely away from hockey, however, the Blackhawks aren’t doing that.
“You don’t want to let your mind wander too much,” Jonathan Toews said. “When you have your sights set on your next opponent and you know when the date is, it’s great to be able to snap back into it and knowing, the couple days leading up to it you need to be where you would be if it was a game day.
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The Blackhawks don’t know the dates yet but they do know their opponent. And whether practicing or taking an off day, their minds are completely focused on the Anaheim Ducks right now.
The extended time off presents a challenge: get rest but stay sharp. Coach Joel Quenneville has never been big on lengthy practices; a “long” practice runs about 45 minutes. But when the Blackhawks do practice they’re not coasting out there.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make sure you balance it when it gets a little longer… where it’s almost, let’s try something different in practice, simulate a game situation,” Quenneville said. “Or we get the feel of the puck, feel of the play, that first game type of intensity that’s going to be there.”
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Whenever a team is off for a while, there’s the inevitable question: will players be rusty when they do return? The Blackhawks had six days off between finishing their first-round series against the Nashville Predators to starting their second-round session vs. the Minnesota Wild. That layoff didn’t hurt them; the Blackhawks scored three goals in the first period of Game 1. Given the gravity of the postseason, the Blackhawks should be ready when this series starts, too.
“You kind of get in that routine of every-other-day games and getting that momentum and playing, getting into the games. It’s kinda tough [with time off], but it’s also nice to have the rest,” Bryan Bickell said. “These last practices have been a good pace and it gets us ready for the game.”
The Blackhawks have enjoyed their days off, from Bickell’s day of fishing to players spending time with family and friends. But at this time of year, the game and the next opponent is never too far in the back of their minds.
“It’s nice to be here, sleep in your own bed and not a hotel, things like that,” Duncan Keith said. “[But] you’re always focused on hockey no matter what, watching the games and thinking about the next series.”