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Time to kick back

The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp (10) checks the Blues' Adam Cracknell (79) during Game 2 of their first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 19 in St. Louis. Chicago won in six games.
The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp (10) checks the Blues' Adam Cracknell (79) during Game 2 of their first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 19 in St. Louis. Chicago won in six games.

CHICAGO – All right, fine, so it didn’t compare with playing in a Game 7.

When the Blackhawks returned to practice Wednesday at Johnny’s IceHouse West, no sellout crowd went bonkers. No dance-beat pop songs blared from the speakers. No foghorn reverberated through the building.

Instead, the only shriek came from coach Joel Quenneville’s whistle.

“I thought it was OK,” said Quenneville, who gave his players a rare 2-day break after they knocked out the St. Louis Blues. “I would expect even better tomorrow.”

Spoken like a two-time Stanley Cup champion. Always wanting more.

The mustachioed coach probably will not want his team to hear this, but the Hawks already have a head start on their second-round playoff series. Because while the Hawks rested and prepared, the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild poured their blood, sweat and tears into a winner-take-all Game 7.

For that matter, a half-dozen playoff teams waded into the choppy waters of Game 7 on Wednesday. The Avalanche hosted the Wild, the New York Rangers hosted the Philadelphia Flyers, and the San Jose Sharks welcomed the Los Angeles Kings.

It marked the fifth time in NHL history, and the first time since 2003 that three or more Game 7s were played on the same day.

Meanwhile, the Hawks absorbed zero hits and accumulated zero bruises. After a workmanlike, hour-long practice, players headed home to watch games on TV.

“I’ll be watching,” Hawks forward Bryan Bickell said, “on the couch with my two dogs.”


Rather than fret about their next opponent, the Hawks focused on their own personnel during practice. Quenneville led the Hawks through power-play drills, penalty-killing drills, odd-man rushes, and a variety of other quick-hit exercises.

The Hawks’ top line of Bickell, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa tested goaltender Corey Crawford as much as possible. Crawford used his leg pads to stop a low shot by Bickell, and he used his glove to swat away a wrist shot by Hossa, but then Toews got the better of him with a perfectly placed wrist shot that nearly popped the Gatorade bottle off of the top of the net.

Could fast-paced drills help the Hawks sustain their good vibes from a first-round win? Or would momentum in the next series belong to the team that won a Game 7?

“I don’t think you lose it,” Quenneville said. “I think both teams have it. In a new series, you want to make sure you try to keep it and sustain it. …

“For sure, the team that wins [Game 7], they’re going to be sky high and excited about starting the series. But it wasn’t like we’ve been off that long. We know how hard and challenging it was. I think that last series should give us some excitement in our game, as well.”

Bickell (and, presumably, his two dogs) agreed with the coach.

“There’s definitely momentum,” Bickell said. “And confidence, too, for what we did being down 2-0 and swinging back and playing good hockey every game.”

Momentum is nice and confidence is dandy, but the Hawks have two Stanley Cup championships since 2010 because of their players. Now, they’re all fully rested, including recently injured players such as Toews and Patrick Kane.

Heck, Crawford looked so relaxed that he might as well have been wearing sandals.

“It’s nice to rest,” Crawford said. “The most important thing is the mental break.”

In other words, the exact opposite of playing in a stressful Game 7.

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