Hawks keep intensity up between series

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks gave themselves the luxury of a few extra days off between series by taking care of the Minnesota Wild in five games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Blackhawks aren’t exactly taking it easy while they await their second-round opponent, either the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks, though. While rest and getting healthy is an objective since closing out the Wild on Thursday, the Blackhawks also understand the importance of keeping a playoff pace and focus to their game. It’s not something they believe you can turn off and turn right back on.

“It’s useful, it’s helpful as long as we use it that way,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said of the time between series. “We got good coaches and a good leadership group to keep everyone on their toes, keep us thinking playoff hockey.”

With that in mind, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville pushed his players in drills and in a scrimmage for about an hour Saturday as hard as he has all season. He gave them Sunday off and will put them back to work again on Monday.

“We want to get sharp,” Quenneville said after Saturday’s practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “Hopefully we can elevate the pace of our team game. I loved [Saturday’s] practice. I thought that was the best we practiced since the playoffs began. That’s basically how we want to make sure we’re going into the next round. I think that’s something hopefully we try to reinforce.”

The Blackhawks were all for what Quenneville demanded of them Saturday.

“Got to stay sharp, stay intense and physical, get the legs going, get a sweat going,” Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. “I think it’s smart what he did out there.”

Sharp witnessed a different intensity to their practice, and he also agreed that was a good thing.

“It’s about staying focused,” Sharp said. “It’s about staying prepared mentally and physically. It’s easy with time off to kick your feet up and watch other games and feel like you’re ready to play. I think you saw [Saturday] we haven’t had a practice like that all season. A little more intense. Guys are playing harder out there. Joel’s got some practice drills that we’re doing to keep us on our toes. You want to stay ready to go at all times.”

Quenneville is seeking to keep his players ready for the second round, but he’s also hoping they raise their games. He didn’t believe what they gave in the first round would get them by in the following rounds.

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane wasn’t sure why they lacked the necessary intensity against the Wild, but he was confident they could bring it going forward.

“You saw the practice [Saturday,]” Kane said. “We had a real good pace. I think that’s what we’ll need to bring to our next round to be successful. Maybe the first round was kind of a warm up for us because we didn’t play that well. I think a lot of us feel there’s a lot more in the tank here and we can get better. That’s the exciting part.”