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Hawks embrace rare break

Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 7:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 12:35 p.m. CDT
(Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery (30) pats goalie Corey Crawford on the rear as Crawford prepares to replace Emery after Emery gave up three goals during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers Sunday, March 10, 2013 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO – Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw looked as if he had wrestled a grizzly bear while running an ultra-marathon while wearing a weighted vest.

Sweat dripped off the ends of his matted black hair. The color of his face was more home-sweater red than road-sweater white. He had logged 19 shifts and more than 17 minutes of ice time against the Edmonton Oilers, and his tank was empty.

“It’s tough,” Shaw said between breaths in the moments after Sunday’s 6-5 loss, “playing every other night and competing to the best ability you can.”

On Monday, Shaw and his teammates had a chance to catch up on some sleep.

In fact, they might still be asleep today.

After a record-setting start that featured a 24-game point streak, the Hawks (21-2-3) have closed up shop for a couple of days. They will return to action Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Dallas, Colorado and Anaheim.

A three-day rest between games marks the Hawks’ longest break of the season.

Until now, the Hawks have had a frenetic schedule as part of a shortened 48-game slate. They played 26 games in 51 days, including six sets of back-to-back games.

It’s probably no coincidence the Hawks’ recent losses to Colorado and Edmonton came at the end of a seven-game, 11-day whirlwind.

“Physically, I think we’re a little bit tired,” Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford said. “But you never want to use that as an excuse. We’re just going to take our days off and prepare ourselves for the next game.”

At least Crawford has had a chance to relax while backup Ray Emery is in net.

Ten Hawks have played in every game this season, while three others have missed only one game. Duncan Keith (23:56) and Brent Seabrook (22:58) lead the team’s defensemen in ice time per game, while Patrick Kane (20:18) and Jonathan Toews (19:31) have proved to be the busiest forwards.

A lengthy lockout prompted the league’s schedule-makers to cram as many games as possible into a condensed time frame. Additional challenges await the Hawks, who will wrap up their regular season next month with 15 games in 28 days.

“It’s never easy,” Toews said. “But you’ve got to look at it that every team out there is kind of going through the same thing, and it’s not a disadvantage or an advantage for one or the other.

“You can’t be going out there and just chalking it up to, ‘Oh, hey, we played so many games this past week.’ We’ve got to find a way to settle down and play smart, defensive hockey.”

It’s a point that Joel Quenneville is likely to emphasize when the Hawks reconvene.

For now, however, the Hawks’ coach wants his players to enjoy a rare break.

“Get away,” Quenneville said. “Gather some energy. I think when you’re able to play the game when you feel good, I think your thought process is much more effective. …

“When you’re not [feeling] good, it slows you down.”

• Northwest Herald sports writer Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.comand on Twitter @tcmusick.

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