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Blackhawks won’t say, but would probably prefer Wild next round

ST PAUL MN - JANUARY 23:  Marian Hoss#81 Chicago Blackhawks controls puck against Ryan Suter #20 MinnesotWild during second

ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 23: Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Ryan Suter #20 of the Minnesota Wild during the second period of the game on January 23, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 181113573

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Updated: June 1, 2014 6:36AM



There’s nothing quite like a Game 7 — the intensity, the pressure, the excitement, the drama.

But there is something even better: Not having to play a Game 7 in the first place.

While the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild fight to the finish on Wednesday night in Denver, the Blackhawks — who await the winner — will be watching from the comfort of their own homes, coming off two days away from the rink and a scheduled welcome-back practice earlier in the day.

Those two days off couldn’t have come at a better time, given the physically and mentally draining nature of the Hawks’ six-game first-round victory over the St. Louis Blues.

“It’s really good to get some rest,” goaltender Corey Crawford said. “But I’m sure we’re going to be eager to start the next one.”

Of course, none of the Hawks would bite when asked which team they’d rather see in the Central Division final. In their eyes, it’s not about who the opponent is but how the Hawks play that will determine the winner. That said, the Hawks probably wouldn’t mind seeing the Wild prevail.

Not that Minnesota is a pushover. The Wild have been impressive in pushing the division-champion Avalanche to a Game 7, boast the best possession numbers of any team in the playoffs and are a deeper team than the one the Hawks beat in five games in last spring’s first round. Zach Parise is tied with Colorado rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon for the league lead in playoff points with 10 (three goals and seven assists, including four points in Game 6).

But a Minnesota win means home-ice advantage for the Hawks instead of opening in Denver. It means facing third-string goalie Darcy Kuemper instead of Hart Trophy candidate Semyon Varlamov, who beat the Hawks four times in five tries this season — three of them outright thefts. And it means avoiding the young and skilled Avalanche, one of the few teams fast enough to skate with the Hawks and beat them at their own game.

The only concern: Will the time off negate the good vibes the Hawks built in winning four straight against the Blues?

“It’s always nice to get some rest; just be smart and know that every series is different,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We certainly feel confident right now, but no matter what happens, if we get a few days off here, we’re going to have to use it to our advantage and be ready to play as soon as the puck drops next time.”

Wednesday’s practice will be the first the Hawks have held since the playoffs began. That’s the biggest thing Joel Quenneville said he has learned over the past couple of seasons: Rest is more important than work this time of year, and any teaching can be done during morning skates on game days.

But the second round likely will begin on Friday or Saturday, possibly even Sunday. Not even Quenneville can keep his players off the ice for that long.

“This group here, they’d rather just play,” Quenneville said. “But we’ll need a couple practices there to keep that pace going.

“But after [that] series, nothing wrong with taking a few days off to enjoy it. At the same time, let’s be excited about where we’re at.”

And about wherever they are going.

NOTE: Hawks captain Jonathan Toews was named a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award for the second straight year. The announcement came on Tuesday, Toews’ 26th birthday. The other finalists are Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf .

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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