It was back to the grind for the Blackhawks on Sunday in preparation for one of their biggest weeks of the season.
Minus their 10 Olympians, the Hawks returned to practice on the West Side to ready themselves for Thursday's season restart at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Then on Saturday, it's the outdoor game at Soldier Field against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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"It was a nice break," goalie Corey Crawford. "But it's good to be back and feel the puck again."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was glad to be back around his players.
"They got better as they went along out there today," Quenneville said. "It was a little tough at the start of it. But it was a good conditioning skate. The goalies saw a lot of pucks. I expect to be better (Monday)."
The Hawks will start the stretch run with 22 games to play and chasing St. Louis in the Central Division.
Both teams have 84 points, but the Blues have played three fewer games. Colorado is only 5 points behind the Hawks and in third place in the Central.
If the playoffs started today, the Hawks and Avalanche would meet in the first round based on the new divisional format. The Blues would play fourth-place Minnesota.
Five teams from the Central would be in the playoffs, with Dallas owning the tiebreaker for the first wild-card spot.
Lightning claim Kostka:
The Hawks lost defenseman Michael Kostka to Tampa Bay on waivers Sunday.
Kostka is the second defenseman the Hawks have lost on waivers this season. Following the preseason they tried to sneak Ryan Stanton through the waiver process but lost him to Vancouver.
Kostka appeared in only nine games (he broke his foot earlier) and had 2 goals, 1 assist and was plus-3.
"I think whether we're looking at the business decisions and hockey decisions, sometimes they go hand in hand," Joel Quenneville said. "It definitely gives Mike a chance to play. We liked what he brought. I think getting picked up by his former coach (Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper), I'm sure they're excited about him returning to that organization and for his coach as well. We just wish him the best."
It leaves the Hawks with seven defensemen on the NHL roster, although Rockford's Adam Clendening is in the cusp of being ready, according to a source.
Wait for Olympians:
None of the six Hawks who played for the gold medal Sunday are expected to be back on the ice until Thursday morning in New York before the game against the Rangers.
"The (six) guys that will be getting back tomorrow, I don't expect those guys to be getting on the ice until the morning skate," Joel Quenneville said. "We'll give the guys a couple of days to break.
"We'll see how they are when they get back and gauge it. I would expect that they'll need a couple of days to enjoy it and celebrate and when we get them back together. But a break for them off the ice will probably be healthy as well."
Joel Quenneville didn't have a problem with the way Patrick Kane played in the Olympics, even though Kane failed to score a goal for the U.S. He also missed on 2 penalty shots against Finland in Saturday's bronze-medal game.
"I wasn't good enough to help the team win a medal," Kane told reporters in Sochi. "Obviously, I was expected to do a lot more. When you come over here and put up zero goals and 4 assists in six games, it's not the numbers you want to see. It's definitely disappointing."
Quenneville defended his star winger.
"I thought Kaner had several chances and had the puck a lot," Quenneville said. "He didn't have the finish or the show that could have been there. But when Kaner has the puck as much as he does, generally good things happen.
"But goalies and goal-scoring throughout that tournament, goaltending was great and goal-scoring was tough to come by."
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