CHICAGO – Practice was long over when Joel Quenneville was stopped by two young boys waiting to get on the ice. They asked if he would sign their sticks, and the former NHL defenceman happily obliged.
The boys were still grinning after the coach had left the area. “I’m never going to play with this stick again,” one said.
It seems as if everyone is having some fun during this playoff break for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Quenneville’s team was back on the ice Saturday, continuing its preparations for a still-to-be-determined playoff opponent. If Detroit beats Anaheim in Game 7 of their series on Sunday night, the Red Wings will come to Chicago. If the Ducks win, San Jose will make the trip for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
The Blackhawks’ next game likely won’t be until Tuesday at the earliest, so they’re balancing the need for rest with the importance of keeping their focus during the layoff.
“It’s about staying focused. It’s about preparing mentally and physically,” left wing Patrick Sharp said. “It’s easy with time off to kick your feet up and watch other games and feel like you’re ready to play, but I think you saw today, we haven’t had a practice like that all season. A little more intense.”
Quenneville called for more intensity in the wake of Chicago’s five-game victory over Minnesota in the first round, and the Blackhawks went through a spirited scrimmage in their first practice since they closed out the Wild with a 5-1 victory on Thursday night.
“We want to get sharp. Hopefully we can elevate our pace of our team game,” Quenneville said. “I loved today’s practice. I thought that was the best we’ve practiced since the playoffs began.”
With centre Dave Bolland back on the ice and expected to play in Chicago’s next game, Quenneville also is using the time off to take a look at different line combinations.
Bolland skated on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw on Saturday, and Ben Smith played alongside captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg each had on a white practice jersey and were on lower lines than usual.
“A couple of the guys, we wanted to have a look see,” Quenneville said. “See how it goes.”
Asked specifically about what Saad could do better following the series against the Wild, Quenneville said: “I think he (can) keep it simple and advance the puck and don’t always feel like you’ve got to make a play.”
Saad picked up an assist on Hossa’s second goal in the clinching victory over the Wild for his first point of the post-season. The left wing had 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 games in the regular season. He also led all NHL rookies with a plus-17 rating.
“Not playing my best is something you use for motivation really,” said Saad, criticizing his own play against Minnesota. “It’s not a time to get frustrated, especially, still playing hockey, still winning, so it’s all good stuff.”
Bolland and goalie Ray Emery missed the first-round series with lower body injuries, but Quenneville said he expects both players will be available for Game 1 against Detroit or San Jose. Emery teamed with Corey Crawford for the NHL’s best goalie tandem this year, but it might be difficult for Emery to get back on the ice after Crawford was so good against Minnesota.
“Both guys have been big parts of the team,” forward Patrick Kane said. “Razer had a great season. Bolly’s been a big playoff performer for a long time here, so it’ll be nice to get them both back whenever they’re ready.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap