Coach Joel Quenneville talked about the first-round playoff pace, one that he called “frantic.” Every team, he said, will have it.
But it’s uncertain if every team will be as ready to go as the Chicago Blackhawks who, according to their coach, may be at their freshest level in some time.
“The freshness of the team has probably never been better going into a playoff series than we’re going to have this year,” said Quenneville of the Blackhawks, who will host the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series tonight. “The pace will be amazing, and our group is going in as fresh as we can be.”
The Blackhawks will be without Ray Emery and Dave Bolland. Neither were on the ice this morning, but Quenneville expects them to take the ice again soon. Outside of that, however, the Blackhawks are healthy and ready to roll. That includes Patrick Kane, who had to double shift a few times when Marian Hossa suffered a shoulder injury back in March.
“I think that’s just the way it is with the 48-game season,” he said. “We had a couple days off the past week and everyone’s ready to go. No rest or being tired isn’t an excuse right now.”
True, it helps that NHL teams went through just a 48-game season instead of the usual rigorous 82-game one. But the Blackhawks being fresh goes beyond the lockout-shortened schedule. Quenneville was careful how he balanced off-day work; many times this season he just had guys rest on those off days instead of practice, and it paid off.
“This whole season was like a playoff year with how many games we had in a short amount of time,” Bryan Bickell said. “(Quenneville) emphasizes days off, rest. There’s time for practice, system-wise, but he likes his days off.”
So did the players. Between that and the balance and depth among the forward lines and defensive pairs, the Blackhawks were also able to pare down minutes. Duncan Keith, for example, was playing several minutes less per game this season than the past one.
“I definitely feel fresh,” he said. “I think I’m comfortable playing whatever gets thrown at me. You talk to any player; they like to play as much as they can. But this year, we had a lot of depth on our D core. Everybody’s capable of playing. That’s a good thing, and a part of our success this year.”
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The Blackhawks are partially experiencing that second-wind feeling every player gets at this time of year. It’s the playoffs, it’s exciting, it’s time for the most important part of the year. But they’ve taken care of themselves throughout the regular season, with rest time and balanced minutes, and it should bode well for them moving forward.
“I think obviously with the short season, we’ve had so many games back to back and short time period. But coaches have done a good job giving us a lot of time off, a lot of rest,” Keith said. “Credit to the players, also, for using that time to recoup and regenerate, and knowing that at this time of year, that’s what it’s all about.”