Blackhawks want to finish strong while staying fresh for postseason

Blackhawks want to finish strong while staying fresh for postseason

Every team has goals it wants to hit at various parts of the season. At the start you want to be strong so you can save yourself a mad scramble to get into the postseason. In the middle, you want to just keep pace, get through that drudgery known as games 40-60.

But what about the end? If you're a playoff-bound team it's about reaching balance: you want to play your best hockey but also want to get your rest and conserve energy for the "next season."

The Blackhawks are in this mode right now. The postseason berth has been wrapped up. They've hit the 100-point mark and still maintain a six-point lead in the conference/division. So with nine games left the Blackhawks will try to get that overall play they had through most of February while being mindful of rest.

"We have [nine] to go and want to make sure we're fresh. At the same time, we want to be competitive," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're looking to play games and in games, if we have a chance to back off a little bit, that'll be dictated by the score, the time of the game."

Entering their last two games trailing by two, the Blackhawks haven't had the chance to back off. They've had to do the opposite. Quenneville has said the team's four-line rotation, which was great in February, hasn't been there the past few games. Part of that could be due to injury. Artem Anisimov has missed the last three-plus games with a left-leg injury and is still expected to miss another 2-3 weeks. The Blackhawks have found ways to win despite that, but want to get back to more consistent hockey.

"Obviously we still want to try to win our division you want to be playing well," Brian Campbell said. "The last [few] games have been OK, spurts and stuff, so we want to ramp it up. There are some guys who can probably back off if they need or want to, there are those situations. It's a good situation to have. But this team's been around, they know how to prepare and get ready for it."

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So does Quenneville. We've reached that time of the season when the Blackhawks won't practice much, if at all. They're playing every other day and their morning skates are their versions of practice. As for in games, the Blackhawks know how to keep their energy up there, too.

"I think just playing good hockey and taking short shifts is key. You're not extending shifts to a minute and a half, two minutes," Ryan Hartman said. "You're conserving some long-term energy."

The Blackhawks are nearing the regular-season finish line but another race awaits them. They want to be ready for the postseason but they don't want to get too relaxed down the stretch.

"It's still the regular season. Nobody's taking the foot off the gas pedal. We're still trying to win hockey games and you want to come into the playoffs with a winning atmosphere and winning attitude," Hartman said. "Take every game one at a time and don't try to play conservative. Play good and winning hockey."

Blackhawks' Brian Campbell asks CSN's David Kaplan for help on NCAA bracket

Blackhawks' Brian Campbell asks CSN's David Kaplan for help on NCAA bracket

It's a fun time of year to be a sports fan.

The NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs are right around the corner, as is baseball season.

But over the next couple days, millions will be spending hours filling out their March Madness brackets in one of the most exciting and unpredictable tournaments in sports.

Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell admits he isn't as dialed in on NCAA basketball as others, but he'll be filling out a bracket and he's looking for some help.

Well, actually he's trying to find an expert that will fill one out for him and split the winnings with. 

"I haven't asked the person yet, but I know (David) Kaplan pretty well and I think he's a good choice to say, 'Hey Kap, I'll split the winnings with you if you fill out my bracket for me.' I know he knows his college basketball. ... That's my No. 1 prospect right now."

Watch the full video above as Kaplan reacts to the comments in SportsTalk Live.

Think your bracket can beat Kap's? Play the CSN Bracket Challenge for a chance to win bragging rights AND Lou Malnati's pizza!

Blackhawks will try to avoid end-of-bye-week pitfalls

Blackhawks will try to avoid end-of-bye-week pitfalls

Coach Joel Quenneville is cognizant of how the bye week has effected some teams that have already taken it. He and the Blackhawks got a glimpse of that last Saturday when they soundly beat the Edmonton Oilers, who had just come off theirs.

As Quenneville said, “I think teams are having a little bit of a hiccup coming out of it.”

So how do you avoid that hiccup?

“Don’t know that,” Quenneville said. “I think we’ve been pretty good being fresh coming out of days off but we’ve never had this kind of break.”

The Blackhawks can take a lesson from last weekend’s visit to Edmonton heading into Saturday night, when they host the Oilers. Not only do you need that jump off to start, you need to sustain it. The Oilers got the early 1-0 advantage but the Blackhawks took over after that.

“It’s always tough to try and find your legs right away,” Ryan Hartman said. “The key is to worry about that first period, put yourself in good position to finish off strong and it’s always nice when you start at home after a break have the fans behind you. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Duncan Keith said it’s not just about the physical preparation out of the break, either.

“[The Oilers] will be ready, and it comes down to being a little more mentally prepared than normal. You try to find a way to get yourself into it right away,” Keith said. “We just have to make sure we’re taking short shifts and keeping as high a pace as we can.”

Brian Campbell said the start isn’t important solely for this game but also for the Blackhawks’ latest series of games. The Blackhawks have three games in four nights and are still chasing the Minnesota Wild, who they face on Tuesday. The Wild caught up to the Blackhawks in games this past week but also now have a seven-point lead over them.

“Obviously you don’t want to look too far ahead but Minnesota is one of those games to the end there. That’s another huge game for us so we have to keep finding ways to put points in the bank here,” Campbell said. “Last game against Edmonton, they came off their break, I don’t know if they were at their best but it’s going to be reversed. We want to try and catch Minnesota.”

The Blackhawks enjoyed the break but were glad to be back to practice on Friday. They’re used to stretch-run hockey but they’re not used to hitting it coming off a break like this. They went into the bye with a flourish. They’d like to come out of it the same way.

“Our guys are pretty good about coming ready to play and I certainly liked how we went into the break, knowing that was a question mark, how we’re going to be and that you’re going to be out for a little bit. And I thought we played extremely well in Edmonton there,” Quenneville said. “But they weren’t their best when they came out of it. Hopefully we got a little bit of a lesson from that, knowing that they’re going to be much better tomorrow.”