CHICAGO | Joel Quenneville will not go there.
The Blackhawks coach, strategically vague on stuff like injuries, won’t say a drop of the puck shortly after 11:30 a.m. today will throw his team into a bloodshot tizzy.
Quenneville knows better. His players will gladly arouse from a sound sleep for a nationally-televised re-match with the Boston Bruins, their Stanley Cup Finals foes they astoundingly vanquished in a 17-second span last June.
“You get one of those every few years,” he said. “Better be ready to play. I know Boston will be excited to come back in here. It will be a good test for us as well.
“I think guys don’t mind playing in the afternoon. Call it an afternoon game. Now it’s a morning game. I’m sure everybody will be excited about playing that game.”
Hawks players get why they’ll have to tuck themselves in a bit earlier Saturday night, then play at a time they normally practice or have a morning skate prior an evening game. The NHL and NBC-TV want as much as the talented, telegenic Hawks as possible.
On a weekend when viewing interest is heightened by the NFL conference championship games, NBC figures to feed off the cabin-fever crowd by starting off the viewing day with two attractive teams.
Both teams are again Stanley Cup contenders. Despite some sub-par play since New Year’s, the Hawks still rank second in points in the NHL. The Bruins are battling Tampa Bay for leadership of the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
Almost to a man, the Hawks are looking forward to the re-match with a Bruins.
“I think it will be fun,” second-line winger Brandon Saad said. “We have a lot of tough games coming up. We’re playing Boston for the first time since the Cup. It’s going to be exciting for the fans, especially being on the NBC game.”
One Hawk looking to return to glory days against the Bruins is Bryan Bickell. The winger scored his ninth and final postseason goal to tie Game 6 with 1:16 to go, 17 seconds prior to the departed Dave Bolland’s game winner. Bickell has been in a slump since coming back from a knee injury in December, even logging bench time.
“I think it’s going to be exciting playing the team we defeated in the finals,” Bickell said. “There’s always that little bad taste in your mouth (the Bruins) might have. But to have everybody back home and everybody around the world to watch this game to see where we’re standing now, it’s exciting. It’s kind of where we left off in the finals, to have that playoff atmosphere.”
Bickell literally meant around the world. The 11:30 a.m. wakeup call may far earlier than normal for the Hawks, but it’s prime time in Sweden for followers of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
“Personally, I’m not a huge fan of (early games) as a player,” he said. “But for the European guys, all my buddies and my family, it’s great. It’s 7 o’clock at night. They don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to watch the game. They’re always happy to see those early starts.”
The Hawks also get up to speed in the variety of styles, now playing a full complement of home-and-home games against all Eastern Conference teams. They only played within the Western Conference in the lockout-shortened schedule last season.
“It’s more of a run-and-gun and opportunities in the East,” Bickell said. “In the West, it’s more control of the neutral zone and have the puck come to you.”