Game away from closing out tough stretch

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith wouldn't fall back on this season's compact schedule for why his team appeared exhausted in Friday's 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

"I don't think we're going to use that as an excuse," Keith said. "Every team has played a lot hockey lately. We've been playing those type of scenarios already this year where we played a lot of hockey, back-to-back games, in a short of period of time."

But unlike every team, the Blackhawks were nearly impeccable with that schedule. Friday's loss was the Blackhawks' first in regulation in 25 games this season. Other than Chicago, only the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins, who have three regulation losses each, haven't lost at least five regulation games this season.

Keith wouldn't admit it, but the nonstop schedule probably finally caught with the Blackhawks. They looked tired Friday, and they probably should have been.

As remarkable as the Blackhawks streak to the start season was, it would have taken a special effort to pull out another point Friday or even Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Blackhawks are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season.

Sunday's game will mark their seventh game in 11 days. The stretch has included no more than one day off between games, two sets of back-to-backs, four home games and three road games, which included an afternoon game in Detroit.

"We're in our toughest stretch of the year," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We have one more to go. Let's regroup now and get ready for Sunday."

Win or lose Sunday, the Blackhawks should be relieved when Monday arrives. Starting Monday, the Blackhawks will have their first three-day stretch of the season without a game. They'll have another three-day stretch without a game in April and a four-day break later in March.

The rest will surely be welcomed, but the Blackhawks understand they have plenty of hockey ahead of them. They certainly didn't plan on dwelling on their first regulation loss for long.

"It's hockey," Keith said. "It's not like we're going to cry now. We just move on and try to be better the next game. Tough game on Sunday, so we'll have to be better than we were [Friday].”