Hawks don't plan to squander second playoff chance
Jonathan Toews knows how lucky the Blackhawks are to have a second life and a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Same goes for Duncan Keith. And Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane and Connor Murphy.
So it should come as no surprise that every one of those players over the past few weeks has talked about how they do not want to waste this unique opportunity.
"A lot of guys had time to reflect on the years they had to kind of prepare for this playoff," Brandon Saad said after Tuesday's practice at Fifth Third Arena. "Now that we know it's happening for sure, I know guys are ready to go. They're excited. You can see the energy.
"You do the best you can with the situation you're in and the excitement couldn't be any higher for this group."
The Hawks' situation was dire at best in mid-March. With a record of 32-30-8, there was almost no way they were going to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But four months later, here they are with a new lease on life thanks to the NHL's decision to expand the playoff field to 24 teams.
"We were able to sneak in under these rules," Toews said. "It's an opportunity for all of us. Regardless of whether there's fans in the building or not, there's something to play for. A lot of pride. It's good experience for everyone. ...
"Every game, that thought of the Cup being on the line has to be in the back of your mind. You win one game, there's no telling how far you can go. We'll really try and build that feeling, that mindset, in the locker room over the next couple of weeks before we start."
Let's be clear here: Unless they get Corey Crawford back, the Hawks' chances remain minuscule. Crawford, who was declared unfit to participate Monday, did not practice Tuesday and may not be ready to face the Oilers when the best-of-five series begins in Edmonton on August 1.
That would force coach Jeremy Colliton to choose between one of four goaltenders, with the most likely options being Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia. It would take a herculean effort all over the ice for either of them to help the Hawks vanquish the Oilers.
"We (have) a lot of goaltenders chomping at the bit here to get that opportunity," Saad said. "So it's not like we have a shortage of that. There's guys who've had a taste in the NHL. They're ready to embrace that opportunity.
"So it's tough obviously. ... We're not sure when (Crawford's) coming back. But it's kind of just that next-man-in-line attitude where we're going to be prepared regardless of who's in net." Tuesday's practice featured more high-speed drills and plenty of scrimmaging. Colliton also gave forward Philip Kurashev a look on the fourth line with David Kampf and Ryan Carpenter. Brent Seabrook remained outside of the top six defensemen as he attempts to come back from three surgeries.
When practice was over, Colliton spent about 20 minutes working on the power play with Saad, Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander and Adam Boqvist.
There were also plenty of sprints at the end of practice as coaches try to get players in the best possible shape to face the Oilers.
The hope, of course, is that those sprints help the Hawks prepare for a marathon postseason.
Now, is that realistic? Well, that's certainly open for debate.
All the Hawks know is they're going to do everything they can to shock the hockey world by ousting the Oilers.
"It's going to be a tough series against Edmonton," Keith said. "They have two of the best players in the world -- if not THE two best to players in the world in (Connor) McDavid and (Leon) Draisaitl.
"But it's not just those two guys. There (are) other players on their team that are dangerous. They were ahead of us in the standings, so we know we've got our work cut out for us.
"But we're excited to have this opportunity and show that we belong and we could make some noise as an underdog."