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Rested Hawks ready for big weekend

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will walk a fine line Saturday when they finally get back on the ice against their arch-rival Detroit Red Wings.

A week of rest is nice, but there always exists the possibility of rust setting in, and the Hawks don’t want to take too long to shake off the cobwebs.

“It’s great to have the layoff, but we want to be at the level we were at before the layoff,” defenseman Brian Campbell said after practice on Thursday. “We want to start right away and not wait for a period or period and a half.”

Joel Quenneville ran an up tempo practice Thursday to get the Hawks thinking about a fast pace when they get back to game action. With two of the past three days spent off the ice, he wants his team ready for a big weekend against the Wings and Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.

“We have to be ready to set the pace and dictate as much as we can,” he said. “We can’t anticipate we’re going to catch up in the middle of the game. We turned the switch back on [Thursday] and I thought they did a good job with it.”

If there is one thing Quenneville wants to accomplish with a week of practice it’s seeing improvement in the Hawks' penalty-killing, ranked 27th in the NHL.

“It’s an area we know we can get better, and we want to get better at a faster rate,” Quenneville said.

While some players talked of the possibility of catching the Red Wings in the division -- they’re eight points behind as of Thursday -- Quenneville is focused on the day-to-day.

“First things first,” he said. “Trying to get out of that [playoff] bubble.”

The Hawks are the No. 8 seed but most of the conference has finally caught them in games played.

“There’s a chance you get on a great roll and you have a chance at home ice in the first round,” he said. “That’s the advantage of not being satisfied with the first part of the year, but [at least] we kept ourselves in play. Now we have to do something about it.”

Quenneville indicated Corey Crawford would start Saturday’s game against Detroit.

Campbell excels: Campbell is on a nice roll. He’s contributing at both ends of the ice and for the first time as a Hawk he’s getting extended time killing penalties. It took Campbell a long while to feel comfortable coming off a knee injury which started his season a month late.

“Sometimes you get in a rut,” Campbell said. “I felt good, but I felt like I could do more. Joel wants us to jump up into the play more sometimes than we even want to. I’m trying to do that.”

Campbell’s plus-23 rating sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s third in the NHL and hasn’t had a minus game since Dec. 19, a span of 12 contests. He also has assists in four of the past five games.

“Over time, there is a reason you’re plus-23,” Quenneville said. “It's pretty remarkable. The core is in and around being plus, but not at that rate. It’s an indication things are going pretty well.”

Quenneville is right about Campbell’s teammates. Most of the defense has hovered around being even players while some have languished on the minus side. The next best plus/minus belongs to Niklas Hjalmarsson at plus-8. That’s a far cry from Campbell, who’s taking the attention in stride.

“Someday if I’m a minus 23, you guys will mention that,” he joked. “I feel great with my defensive game as well as my offensive game.”

As for killing penalties, he’s only been doing it since the Hawks sent Jassen Cullimore to the minors.

“I feel great with it now,” Campbell said. “I’m comfortable. It keeps me in the game more. I just want to keep learning and keep getting better at it.”

Charity watch: Campbell believes his second annual celebrity Texas Hold’em tournament may have raised double the intake of a year ago, though no official numbers have been compiled yet. Campbell and the entire Hawks team were on hand at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., on Tuesday night.

“It was a great time,” Campbell said. “[Troy] Brouwer, [Jordan] Hendry, and [Corey] Crawford lasted the longest. Crawford was into it. He had the whole get up. He made his own t-shirt, he had sunglasses and headphones on too."

Crawford was thrilled to finish second.

“[I] got myself mentally prepared,” he said with a straight face. “I had my best game out there. I caught some bad luck. I got beat by a pretty good player.”

Crawford was asked if he was talking cards or playing goalie.

“We’re talking cards,” he joked.

Marian Hossa was the first Hawks player eliminated from the tournament.

“No regrets, I had a great hand,” Hossa said. “Even the pro guys said I made the right call.”

Hossa got beat holding three eights, considered a strong hand in Texas Hold’em.