Updated: March 30, 2014 10:31PM
PITTSBURGH — Bryan Bickell didn’t play during the Blackhawks’ three-game road trip. But he definitely got his work in — three extended morning skates during which assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and Jamie Kompon put him and his fellow scratches through their paces.
“I know I’m getting in better shape,” Bickell said. “It feels like those skates are harder workouts; there’s no break.”
But by keeping him out of the lineup while he recovers from an upper-body injury that has cost him six games, the Hawks have given him a chance to avoid getting reinjured and to recharge for the playoff push and the postseason.
“Heal the body, heal the brain and just get focused when I come back in,” Bickell said.
With three days off after the game Sunday, coach Joel Quenneville decided to play it safe with Bickell. He’s expected to return to the lineup Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.
“At this time of the year, we want to be smart about it, and we have some time to rest and make sure that he’s more than ready,” Quenne-ville said. “We’re going to need his presence at an important time, so we’ll give him time to get ready. If it was a playoff game, I’m sure he’d be playing [Sunday].”
Clinch no cinch
The Hawks had two chances to clinch a playoff spot on their own, but losses to the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators forced them to wait for the Phoenix Coyotes to lose Saturday night to secure their spot in the postseason.
With the St. Louis Blues pulling away in the Central Division, the Hawks will spend the last two weeks of the season trying to get ahead and stay ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, whom they’ll almost certainly face in the first round of the playoffs.
“Our primary objective at the start of the year was to make the playoffs,” Quenneville said. “Obviously, we’d like to finish first, [but] it looks like trying to have home ice is the objective.”
Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad said he had about 40 friends and family members coming to the game. Saad’s only other NHL game in Pittsburgh came during the 2011 preseason, a few months after he was drafted.
With a free day in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Saad was able to go home and see his family and friends.
The Penguins had a chance to draft Saad with the 23rd pick in 2011 but chose defenseman Joe Morrow, since traded, instead.
“Who knows how that would’ve worked out?” Saad said. “I was just hoping to get my name called, really. If it had worked out to be here [in Pittsburgh], it would have been nice. But, either way, it’s nice to be drafted.”