Only six games remain on the regular-season schedule, as the playoffs loom in the not-too-distant future.
The Chicago Blackhawks took the last two days off, getting a chance to clear the mind, rest some bodies and try to reset for these final six games. And while the Blackhawks will be without their two best players (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) until the playoffs, they still want to get some of these mistakes out of their game and still want to be playing better hockey entering the postseason.
The Blackhawks will try to go on without their dynamic duo, and they’ll start on Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild. The team has been sputtering down the stretch, losing their last three and four of their last five. But with some time away, they’re hoping to come back refreshed on Thursday night.
“It was nice to get a few days off here,” Marcus Kruger said. “I felt the energy was pretty good out there; guys were excited. We need to get on the winning side of things now and play better because every team’s going to get better and better. That’s what we have to do.”
The Blackhawks were missing a few bodies other than Kane and Toews on Wednesday, including Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus and Johnny Oduya. Those three were taking a “maintenance day,” Quenneville said, and should be fine for Thursday night. That’s good, because the Blackhawks will need a little bit from everyone to get through this final stretch before Kane and Toews return.
The Blackhawks, who have 99 points, will enter Thursday’s game three points behind the Colorado Avalanche, who would have home-ice advantage in their likely first-round matchup. It’s important to gain what points the Blackhawks can right now, but also be playing the right way.
“We’d like to have some confidence in our game, (be it) defensively, with our four-line rotation and playing with some energy,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Every team we’re playing has two points on the line; games are very meaningful for them. We have to find a way to get ourselves back in that little race we have with Colorado. We lost some ground the last few games. (We need to be) playing the right way, being sharp and keep bringing that pace. It’s been sporadic the last few games.”
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The results have been, too. Two weeks ago the Blackhawks got what was considered a “statement” victory against the St. Louis Blues, when they lost Kane to injury but dominated the game. They’ve won just twice since then.
Dare we say the Blackhawks are tired? They’ve played a ton of hockey the past two seasons, from the Stanley Cup run to a full 82-game schedule again this season. Then there are the 10 Olympians, who played even more hockey and had long travel (I’ll admit, I didn’t think it would affect them much. I was wrong.) Fatigue would certainly be understandable but players weren’t buying it.
“It’s been a lot of games but we should be able to handle it,” said Kruger, one of the Blackhawks’ 10 Olympians. “It’s fun to play hockey at this time of year. Hopefully we can find some energy from that. We’re looking for a good stretch here until the playoffs.”