After locking up West, health all that matters for Blackhawks


The Blackhawks took care of what they needed to in the regular season.

They clinched the division title for the 16th time in franchise history, they locked up home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, and they've put themselves in a great position to compete for their fourth Stanley Cup in eight years.

The path might be a favorable one as well, with contenders like Minnesota and San Jose dwindling down the stretch and Los Angeles missing out.

After falling to the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Sunday in their regular-season home finale, the Blackhawks have just three games remaining. And the only importance of those three games will be staying healthy. 

There were a few hold-your-breath moments over the weekend already.

In Friday's game against Columbus, Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked a heavy slap shot off the inside of his foot and took longer than usual to shake it off — albeit only one shift.

On Sunday, Patrick Kane left the ice during pregame warmups after taking a puck to the lip. He was stitched up and able to play, but it provided enough of a (minor) scare to make Chicago gasp, "Uh-oh." It was a freak accident, but it served as a reminder that weird things can happen — look no further than Sharks forward Logan Couture, who's missed the last four games after a puck to the face knocked out multiple teeth.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Blackhawks tickets right here!]

Now, the Presidents' Trophy is still on the table (barely), but the Blackhawks would need to win out just to have a chance and they won't empty the tank trying to gun for the No. 1 overall seed.

They set a franchise record this year for most road wins in a season, so potentially opening Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final away from the United Center wouldn't be the worst thing. That's what you call a good problem to have — if you can even call it that — knowing you're one of two teams left standing. Every team would take that. And after all, the Blackhawks opened on the road in 2015 against the Lightning and won two of three in Tampa Bay. 

While staying healthy is key, Joel Quenneville cautioned that not playing at full speed can be a recipe for disaster.

"Well you've still got to play hard in games like that because if you take your foot off the gas all of a sudden funny things can happen," he said after Friday's game referring to Hjalmarsson's shot block. "But that’s part of the game."

Artem Anisimov, who's been out since March 14 with a leg injury, plans to start skating Monday and is expected to be ready for Game 1 of the first round. That would mean a healthy and full lineup going into the Stanley Cup playoffs, assuming the Blackhawks escape the final three games without injury.

Quenneville said Sunday "we'll see" on how he'll handle resting guys during the road trip, but one thing you can expect is more evenly-distributed ice time to keep everybody fresh and also involved.

"That’s the motivation right now, playing the right way defensively, trying to get four lines going and try to get some balance in ice time," he said. "Keep everybody fresh, focused on what we need to do to be the best we can starting the following week. We want to make sure our habits and the simple things we're doing right."

Contact Us