Break’s over for the Blackhawks as difficult trip begins

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Jonathan Toews admitted to being a little wary of all the responsibilities he was facing as an All-Star Game captain — drafting a team, slotting players in the skills competition, playing a game, plus all the media attention.

“I wouldn’t say nervousness, but just excitement — maybe anxiety surrounding the whole experience,” Toews said.

But he wound up thoroughly enjoying himself, and embracing the silliness of the whole weekend in Columbus. So even though he and his four Hawks teammates in the All-Star Game didn’t get to spend their break at home with their families or on a tropical island somewhere, they feel recharged all the same.

“We’re around the rink and stuff like that, but it’s still pretty relaxed,” said Brent Seabrook, who had his wife and son with him in Columbus. “I think the NHL has done a good job of not clouding our schedule too much. We’ve had a lot of downtime, so it’s been nice.”

Good thing, too. Because reality comes swiftly in the form of the annual ice show trip. The Hawks headed to Los Angeles on Monday for a couple of days of practice before visiting the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings on Wednesday, the league-leading Anaheim Ducks on Friday and the always-dangerous Sharks on Saturday. Then come games at division rivals Minnesota, Winnipeg and St. Louis before they finally see the inside of the United Center again.

The stretch run is here.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Toews said. “We knew that going into this weekend. It’s almost better that we don’t have a long break. I think it’s great to have a few days, but for the most part you don’t want to get too far removed from being in season, and tease yourself with relaxing for a few too many days. I think the guys will come back and use this break the right way. We’ll be excited to play [this] week.”

The Hawks have enjoyed plenty of success on these lengthy trips. They went 5-1-0 on the circus trip earlier this season, sparking by far their best stretch of the season. They went 3-1-2 on last year’s ice show trip leading into the Olympics, and went 6-1-0 on last year’s circus trip. And in 2013, their 4-0-2 ice show trip was the springboard to their record 21-0-3 start.

“Usually we’re good because we focus on one game at a time,” Patrick Kane said. “Try not to look too far ahead. That’s the biggest thing with these. We’ve had success in the past, hopefully that’ll continue.”

The Hawks restart the season tied with the Blues for second place in the Central Division, with Nashville clinging to a three-point lead (with two games in hand) as it tries to cope with the loss of star goaltender Pekka Rinne. Winnipeg is just two points back. So while a postseason berth isn’t at stake, seeding and home-ice advantage very much are. But of those teams, only the Hawks have had any real postseason success. That experience puts them in a good position for the playoff push.

“We’re in a good spot,” Seabrook said. “We’re in the playoffs and that’s our goal at the start of every year. We have a lot of games here still and we can improve our position. As of right now I think we’re happy with the way things have gone. We know we’ve left some points on the board but that’s all part of it, and we have to be better in games like that.”

Break’s over. Now the real fun begins.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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