Exhibition against Blues is Hawks’ only chance to tune up for playoffs
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.’’
Hawks star Patrick Kane (shown this season against the Blues) says it will be weird to play in a game without fans.