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In a sprint NHL season, scoreboard-watching already has started

Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes

Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes

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DALLAS — The NHL season is less than a week old, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville already is scoreboard-watching, keeping an eye on the standings and sweating shootouts involving Western Conference teams. Four games into the season, and it’s already the home stretch, already a playoff race.

“That’s what it’s like, it’s basically what it feels like,” Quenneville said. “You’re looking at the standings, your division, your conference, the upcoming games, their games, where they are before they play you. It’s almost like we’re at that point, the halfway point of the season, and we have the remainder to position yourself to get in. I’m sure everybody feels the same way that are involved in these games. It’s going to be fun being a part of it.”

The Hawks have played with a home-stretch urgency in the early going, and that effort has paid off with a 4-0 start after Thursday night’s overtime victory in Dallas. As Quenneville and all his players keep pointing out, there simply isn’t time for a midseason lull because there’s not really going to be a midseason, no February doldrums. It’s an all-out sprint, with 48 games in 99 days.

“It’s a short season,” winger Patrick Sharp said. “You want to gather as many points as you can. And so far, so good.”

Quenneville said he has been watching games at home on TV and on his computer, knowing every point won or lost by Central Division and Western Conference teams will be crucial.

“Every game is meaningful,” he said. “You watch the pace of these games, and it seems like it’s a playoff race already. The intensity is amazing. The players seem to be very competitive. [They] seem to be conditioned, as well. There’s not a lot of time between games, [and] the next game is just as big as the previous game. They just keep getting bigger as we go along here.”

Stars coach Glen Gulutzan shared Quenneville’s sentiment.

“We were joking in the room, and [general manager Joe Nieuwendyk] said, ‘Big game tonight,’ ” Gulutzan said Thursday morning. “Yeah, they’re all big.”

It all adds up to what should be an exhausting, yet exhilarating, season.

“The games are pretty impressive as far as the intensity and the meaning and the value,” Quenneville said. “And if it comes down to a shootout, that point down the road is going to be very valuable. It’s going to be an amazing season.”



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