CHICAGO | Psychologist/Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t overload his players with too much food for thought to change their games with the playoffs looming in a week.
You don’t win 705 games, third in NHL history, and two Stanley Cups in the past four years without knowing how to twin the emotional tenor of your team with its physical production.
Quenneville knows how to avoid the minefields that could derail the Hawks, missing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as they play the final three games of the regular season with home-ice advantage in the first round possibly at stake.
He avoids the mistakes of, say, a Lou Piniella. In 2008, the Cubs manager seemed to position the playoffs as something different, maybe more pressure-packed, than the dominant 97-win regular season the team just experienced. Worried and jittery with the players second-guessing Piniella’s strategy, the Cubs were swept three in a row by the Dodgers in almost embarrassing fashion.
“We try to plan it out,” Quenneville said Sunday. “We try to focus on today’s game. Try to simplify it, go down a period and shifts.
“As a coaching staff, going into games, we want to make sure we try to get our team to play the right way and not look too far ahead. I know it’s not easy to do that or think like that. But that’s kind of our mindset. Play the right way.”
Duncan Keith, one of Quenneville’s mainstays and once again a Norris Trophy candidate, agrees.
“The last little while, we’ve tried to play a simple game, and that’s what you need in the playoffs,” Keith said. “Getting pucks to the net, the mentality that simple will be better.”
An old blue-liner, Quenneville thinks defense first. That’s the team quality the Hawks must possess for another Stanley Cup run. Locking down opponents, as the Hawks did Sunday to the Central Division-leading Blues, is an even bigger must in the season wrapup without the combined 137 points of Toews and Kane.
“I think we’re playing better defensively right now,” said winger Marian Hossa. “I thought (before) the last two or three games, we had given up so many goals. Right now, we’re playing tighter defensively, smarter.
“We always miss players like (Toews and Kane). Guys on the third and fourth lines are playing well.”
A three-month roller coaster since New Year’s featured a three-game road skid at the end of March that put the Hawks’ playoff momentum in question.
“We ran into some teams that are playing well,” said goalie Corey Crawford. “Those games happen sometimes. You can’t play perfectly all the time. We weren’t completely dominated.”
But three straight wins since then, including Sunday’s triumph over the Blues which Crawford described as “almost a playoff-type atmosphere,” seem to have pointed the Hawks in the right direction.
The Hawks are getting extra juice from younger players like Jeremy Morin who are fighting to impress Quenneville for a spot on the playoff roster. They know those flaming Coach Q eyes are judging every move.
“We probably think about it every minute of the day,” Quenneville said of playoff lineups. “We love tough decisions. We think depth is going to be very important as you go along.”
His system and the level of play syncing with Quenneville’s standards seem just as important, if not more so, than the first-round home-ice advantage the Hawks are struggling to obtain.
“We’d love to get it, and if we don’t get it, we’ll deal with it,” Quenneville said.