NASHVILLE — Marian Hossa had the option: Take the final regular-season game off or play and have a chance at that 30th goal of the season.
Hossa chose the latter, got the goal and then got some well-deserved rest. Now for he and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s on to the bigger show.
The Blackhawks finished their regular season with a 7-5 loss to the Nashville Predators, but it wasn’t a solemn locker room as much as it was a forward-thinking one. Sure, the Blackhawks would’ve liked two more victories to cap their first 82, but it’s been another great season and one the team hopes translates into more postseason success.
“I liked our year,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a great start, we had an ordinary stretch post-Olympic break, but we’re pleased with it. It’s not very often you get 107 points and have to start on the road.”
Speaking of that, who will the Blackhawks start with on the road? They’ll be waiting until Sunday to find out, as the St. Louis Blues play the Detroit Red Wings in the afternoon while the Colorado Avalanche play at Anaheim at night. Colorado, tied with the Blues in points and holding the tiebreaker over them (more regulation/OT victories), controls its own destiny. If the Blues lose in regulation on Sunday, the Avs win the division, and the Blackhawks will head to St. Louis for their first-round matchup.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Hossa said. “It’s coming down to the last games to decide who you play, so we’re definitely going to watch.”
Hossa ended up watching most of Saturday night’s game, too. Quenneville gave Hossa the option, knowing the right wing was on the cusp of 30. But it came with a condition.
“I said, ‘Well, if you do score early I’m going to pull you,’” Quenneville said with a smile. “And that’s what happened.”
The move ensured that Hossa would come out of the finale healthy. And health is something the Blackhawks will have completely back to start the postseason. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were both absent down the stretch, have been skating and working out back in Chicago. Quenneville, asked if the two will be ready to start the playoffs this week, said, “absolutely.”
The first 82 games are in the books. The Blackhawks started the season strong, putting to rest any talk of a Stanley Cup hangover. Yes, their ending wasn’t nearly as stellar. With 10 players at the Olympics and several injuries cropping up, the final two months were up and down. But now it’s time for that so-called “second season,” and the Blackhawks are ready for it.