ICEMEN RETURNETH

Ex­hi­bi­tion against Blues is Hawks’ only chance to tune up for play­offs

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BEN POPE bpope@suntimes.com | @BenPopeCST

The Black­hawks will play an NHL game Wed­nes­day.

Never has a phrase ut­tered thou­sands of times in the 94-year his­tory of the fran­chise been so no­table.

But on Wed­nes­day — 140 days after the last time it was true — that sen­tence reads as re­mark­able and spe­cial, even to the coaches and play­ers who will par­tic­i­pate in it.

‘‘It’s re­ally im­por­tant for the play­ers to get their tim­ing back and just the rou­tine of play­ing a reg­u­lar game — all things you take for granted as you go through a normal sea­son,’’ coach Jeremy Col­li­ton said Tues­day.

‘‘They haven’t done that in a long time. You have your scrim­mages . . . but noth­ing’s go­ing to get them ready like an ac­tual game.’’

In­deed, the Hawks will play their lone ex­hi­bi­tion game of the NHL restart — their one chance to pre­pare for the do-or-die qual­i­fy­ing play­off round — at 5:30 p.m. against the Blues.

‘‘St. Louis has been a good team for a long time, one of the best teams in the league, so it’ll be good to play against them,’’ Hawks star Pa­trick Kane said. ‘‘We’re go­ing into an arena [Rogers Place in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta] that’s go­ing to be pretty dif­fer­ent with no fans, but a lot of dif­fer­ent other things go­ing on. . . . We re­ally want to use it as a game where we can pre­pare our­selves.’’

The Fly­ers beat the Pen­guins 3-2 in the first ex­hi­bi­tion game of the NHL restart Tues­day in Toronto, and the game went off without a hitch. The Oil­ers and Flames broke in Rogers Place later in the night.

Coro­n­avirus pre­cau­tions were ev­ery­where, but fear was not. The NHL’s an­nounce­ment Mon­day of zero pos­i­tives out of 4,256 tests dur­ing the fi­nal week of lo­cal­ized train­ing camps eased a lot of anx­i­ety, and the qual­ity of hockey in the Fly­ers-Pen­guins game looked im­pres­sively close to that in a reg­u­lar-sea­son game.

The Hawks and Blues will hope to match that, even with noth­ing rid­ing on the re­sult.

‘‘It’s good to have that mind­set that it’s only one game, then we’re right into the mix in the play-in se­ries, so we want to get our speed up,’’ Hawks de­fense­man Dun­can Keith said.

Since ar­riv­ing in the bub­ble Sun­day, the Hawks have made the most of the strange sit­u­a­tion. Goalie Collin Delia gar­nered some laughs on so­cial me­dia with a pic­ture of him play­ing as him­self in a video game, and Kane men­tioned games of bas­ket­ball and corn­hole on the out­door plaza of Rogers Place.

Tech­ni­cally, that fun doesn’t have to end Wed­nes­day, although Kane, Keith and cap­tain Jonathan Toews sure looked and sounded se­ri­ous Tues­day.

But Wed­nes­day will pro­vide the lone op­por­tu­nity for the Hawks to pre­pare for Game 1 on Satur­day against the Oil­ers, when the fun re­ally does have to end.

Col­li­ton said the coach­ing staff hadn’t yet de­cided on the start­ing goalie, but Corey Craw­ford has par­tic­i­pated fully in three prac­tices since re­turn­ing Satur­day from COVID-19 and pre­sum­ably will play at least part of the game against the Blues. De­fense­man Con­nor Mur­phy, who is iffy with a groin in­jury, prac­ticed fully Tues­day.

Col­li­ton also im­plied the Hawks will use their normal lineup in­stead of a pre­sea­son-like hodge­podge of NHL and Amer­i­can Hockey League play­ers.

‘‘We’ve only got one [ex­hi­bi­tion], so there’s def­i­nitely some ur­gency to get ev­ery­one in,’’ Col­li­ton said. ‘‘[We’ll] use this game as an op­por­tu­nity to re­mem­ber how we’re sup­posed to play ... and get the sum­mer hockey out of your game. Be­cause come Satur­day, that’s not go­ing to get it done. We’ll play a very de­tailed, struc­tured, dis­ci­plined game.’’

DILIP VISHWANAT/ GETTY IM­AGES

Hawks star Pa­trick Kane (shown this sea­son against the Blues) says it will be weird to play in a game without fans.

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