When the Blackhawks entered their bye week on Feb. 12 they were ready to do so.
At that point, it was more of a fatigue factor. The Blackhawks had played 57 games entering the bye and, despite winning five in a row after several weeks of up-and-down play, the rest was welcome.
On Sunday the Blackhawks start another respite, this one for four days that will include a practice or two. This time around, the break isn't so much needed as perhaps necessary.
The Blackhawks are rolling right now in terms of results; their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday was their 12th in their last 13 games. But they've been hit by injuries and illness the last several games, so their latest break couldn't have come at a better time.
The break is good for Johnny Oduya, who will get a few more days to get up to speed following an ankle injury that sidelined him for a month. Same for Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body), who's been out since Feb. 23. It's good for Nick Schmaltz, whose illness kept him out the last two games. It's good for Artem Anisimov, who only missed one game from a lower-body injury but gets to recuperate more.
Healthy players could use this time, too. Asked about the break following the Blackhawks' 5-3 victory over Nashville on Saturday night, coach Joel Quenneville said, "some will get a couple more days off than the [scheduled] rest." Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, paired together again with Hjalmarsson out, have taken on the brunt of the responsibility and minutes. Patrick Kane's minutes increased some (26 against the New York Islanders on Friday before going back to 17 on Saturday in Nashville). Corey Crawford just returned from illness on Friday but, with Scott Darling sidelined for three weeks, they'll need him at his best.
The Blackhawks have been getting the results but the wear and tear of the season was catching up to them. The four-line rotation was thrown off some. With Oduya and Hjalmarsson both out, the Blackhawks were minus what's expected to be their second defensive pair.
On Thursday the Blackhawks could return to games at their healthiest all season. They'll have to be, because the stretch run won't be easy. In their final 31 days of the regular season (Thursday-April 8), the Blackhawks will play 17 games. The Blackhawks have the four-line rotation they want. They have the defensive setup they want. Breaks don't always come at opportune times but this one is a welcomed one.
"It's been a good stretch for us, fun," Quenneville said. "But enjoy some time off for some guys here and let's come back energized for the last stretch because we're busy."