Hawks relaxed as Game 1 approaches

Antti Niemi needed the extra rest following the Vancouver series. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

SAN JOSE, California -- So the trip to Alcatraz on Friday wasn’t all about fun and games.

Joel Quenneville revealed Saturday that, with the Blackhawks losing their past four playoff series openers (dating back to 2009), he was trying to change things up.

“Well, I think we can just look at the two prior series. We got a better assessment,” Quenneville explained. “Maybe it's the way we prepared going into both games against Nashville and Vancouver. We had about five days of practices. I don't know if we got a little bit stale going into it. I think our mindset, approach, changing up our scheduling last couple, three days, keeps us fresh and motivated.”

In other words, he wants his team hungry come game time instead of practice time. There’s no doubt they might be able to take advantage of an overly rested Sharks squad.

“The whole week has been a business like attitude,” Patrick Sharp said after practice on Saturday. “I know we’ve taken some time to relax but the game has been on our mind all week long. Now that it’s here you have to get ready. We’ll have some dinner then I’ll beat up on [Jonathan] Toews and [Niklas] Hjarmalsson on the Mario Cart Wii and get ready to play.”

As for the noon local time start, players on both teams admit it’s unusual but the situation should be more than enough to energize an early face off.

“I think you should be up for this game,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter if it starts at 7 am or 7 pm. Both teams are in the same boat.”

The mental and physical rest may have helped the Hawks goaltender more than anyone. Before each playoff series, so far, Antti Niemi has been able to catch his breath.

“It was a good few days to get the energy back,” Niemi said. “[I’m] way more comfortable but I don’t want to think about being comfortable. I just want to be ready when the puck drops on the ice.”

When it does the chess match between head coaches will begin. It’s becoming obvious that Quenneville will indeed use his top checking line and defensemen against the Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley. They are big, strong, and skilled.

“I don't think you can make a game plan for lines like that, [just] like the Sedins,” Brent Seabrook said. “You could never make a game plan for them. They did so many different things. You can't go out there thinking [the Thorton line is] going to do one thing, because they change. They're a creative group.”

If Keith and Seabrook are facing Thorton, that leaves Hjarmalsson and Campbell for the Sharks second line. Joe Pavelski centers it and leads the Sharks in playoff scoring.

“I haven’t played against him too much,” Hjarmalsson said of Pavelski. “He’s a skilled player and you have to be aware of where he is on the ice. He’s a skilled player so you can’t focus too much on the puck or else you’ll be left somewhere else and he’ll probably be scoring.”

Niemi has not faced the Sharks in his short career and neither side could say definitively who that favors. Niemi has been preparing by watching video.

“Mostly of their power play,” he said. “Who likes to shoot.”

Finally, the always understated Dustin Byfgulien was informed that the Sharks say they will not try to move him out of the slot but instead try to tie up his stick when he goes for the rebound.

“I guess I have to find a way to do whatever I have to do to be there,” Byfuglien said.


  • By all accounts the team thoroughly enjoyed their visit to Alcatraz Island on Friday.

    “It was kind of creepy at times,” John Madden said. “We had the audio tour going so we were all off on our own, kind of staring at things. It was a great time. It was interesting and something everybody should do.”