Blackhawks going with skeleton crew as veterans get the night off

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Duncan Keith dives to clear the puck in overtime against the Dallas Stars on March 23. (Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Duncan Keith isn’t used to getting nights off. And he’s certainly not used to the longer morning skates that come with being a healthy scratch. So the typically resolute Blackhawks defenseman was sucking wind a bit Thursday as he talked about the benefits of resting up for the playoffs.

“Obviously, we can’t really move around in our playoff position, and we know the playoffs are going to be a whole different level,” Keith said. “So we want to be as prepared as we can. This is part of that.”

A week before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, several stars got the night off against the Ducks, who were on the verge of clinching the Pacific Division title. Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa all were healthy scratches. With Niklas Hjalmarsson still back home attending to a family matter and Artem Anisimov still working his way back from a lower-body injury, it was quite a skeleton crew for the Hawks.

Keith, Seabrook, Toews and Hossa likely will play in Saturday’s finale against the Kings, so they won’t be too rusty for the playoffs. Keith said that despite the Hawks’ first long summer since 2012, he feels like he normally does at this stage of the season.

“It’s playing a lot of games over the course of a year, especially the [compressed] way the schedule was this year,” Keith said. “But no matter how you feel, it’s about the mental attitude, and then obviously executing. It doesn’t really matter how you feel.”

Forsling’s back

Gustav Forsling is unlikely to play any sort of role in the postseason other than black ace, but was recalled Wednesday to fill in while the top guys got the night off. Forsling burst on to the scene in training camp, earning a roster spot at age 20, but his play tailed off in December and he has spent most of the second half of the season in Rockford.

“Of course, you want to play up here, but at the same time, I know I can develop as much as I can down there,” Forsling said.

Forsling has been playing major minutes with the IceHogs, including time on the power play and penalty kill. Coach Joel Quenneville wants Forsling to be more reliable in his own end in these last two games.

“When we look back, his best stretch was at camp,” Quenneville said. “He looked like he was going to be one of those guys that could play in all situations, meaningful minutes. Down there, he’s played more. He has an upside to his game, just the way he moves and anticipates and sees and makes plays is a great asset to have. We’re looking for that progression.”

Familiar face

Ducks forward Antoine Vermette was a member of the Blackhawks for less than four months — by far his shortest stint with any team in his 13-year NHL career. But winning a Stanley Cup in Chicago made a lasting impression.

“It was not a long time, but it was certainly very intense,” Vermette said. “The moment that I shared with teammates and the team, the city, and all the fans, it was very intense, obviously. So I think it’s always going to be there and close to my heart.”

Vermette, naturally, would be more than happy to see a rematch of that memorable 2015 Western Conference final.

“Hopefully, they’re doing good,” he said with a smile. “But not too good.”

Anisimov update

Anismov will not join the team on the trip, so his regular season is over. But Quenneville said he’s “skating well” back in Chicago, and is still on target to be back in time for the playoffs.

Draft tickets

Tickets for the NHL draft, which will be held on June 23-24 at the United Center, go on sale at noon Friday via Ticketmaster.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.



Blackhawks have been at home away from home this season

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