Patrick Sharp was welcoming the impending normalcy as much as anyone following the Stadium Series finale on Saturday night. It meant getting back to a regular schedule, the usual routine and seeing his two daughters more.
“I think they've got their driver's license by now, I haven't seen them in so long,” Sharp said following the Chicago Blackhawks’ 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It’s a byproduct of this NHL season, really, and the Blackhawks felt the brunt of the unusual schedule as much as any group. Ten of them went to the Olympics while the rest rested. Then there was another road game, this one in New York. Then there was Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Soldier Field. It’s been very non-routine, and hockey players love their routines.
The good news for the Blackhawks is they can finally get back to that normal routine starting Monday, when they practice to prep for Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The international games are done, the NHL’s special-event game is done: Now it’s back to the regular season and a 20-game sprint to the postseason.
“We're definitely excited about our final 20 games here. It's going to be a battle for position in the Western Conference and you see some of the moves teams are making. They're loading up,” said Sharp, likely referring to the St. Louis Blues’ trade for goaltender Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott. “So we're excited to get back to normal, sleep in our own beds and play some hockey at the United Center.”
Ah, yes, the United Center. Remember that place? Outside of the Blackhawks’ optional skate there on Saturday morning, they haven’t been there since Jan. 26 when they hosted the Winnipeg Jets. The Blackhawks will play eight of their next 11 there, a welcome change for a team that spent its entire February schedule on the road.
Now that they’re getting back to their normal routine, the Blackhawks have much on which to focus. It’s the stretch run, and they’ll be trying to improve their position in the Western Conference. Granted, right now they’re in good shape; as of Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks were second in the Western Conference (86 points), three points behind conference-leading Anaheim.
The Blackhawks’ off-ice distractions should be minimal; general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday afternoon that the team is “not focused on the (trade) deadline,” which is Wednesday afternoon. He’s happy with the team he has, and they’re focused on games, not acquisitions.
The Olympics, the Olympic break and the special events are over for the Blackhawks. It’s back to normal, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. With so few regular-season games remaining and the placement chase on, the Blackhawks need as few distractions as possible.