Cruising Blackhawks not sweating any stunted momentum

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Jonathan Toews played at Colorado on Tuesday but had the night off Thursday in Anaheim. (AP Photo)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — As another grueling 82-game regular season nears its finish, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has allowed his team to cruise to the finish line, the top seed in the Western Conference long since sewn up.The Hawks didn’t practice last Saturday, as they normally would have before a day game. They didn’t practice Monday, as they normally might have after a day game. And they didn’t practice Friday in El Segundo, California, as they were scheduled to before the regular-season finale Saturday against the Kings.Duncan Keith has had two consecutive games off. Niklas Hjalmarsson, too. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook got the game Thursday against the Ducks off, as well.Health and rest have mattered more than results, with potentially two more months of hockey on the horizon. But by the time Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs comes around next week, likely Thursday, the Hawks will have gone nearly two weeks without ‘‘playing for keeps,’’ as Quenneville likes to put it. And with three consecutive who-cares losses heading into the regular-season finale, the Hawks obviously aren’t firing on all cylinders as they head into the playoffs.But this isn’t new for the Hawks, who have built a championship legacy on flipping the switch when the playoffs start. And nobody seems too concerned about any stunted momentum. After a relatively competitive 4-0 loss Thursday to the Ducks, which followed a far worse effort in a 4-3 overtime loss Tuesday to the lowly Avalanche, the Hawks had no trouble forgetting about it.‘‘That’s the only thing you can do right now,’’ rookie Ryan Hartman said. ‘‘Playoffs are coming up. You don’t want to think too hard about games like this. You don’t want to carry that on your shoulders going into the playoffs.’’But while the Hawks are strolling to the finish line, their two most likely first-round opponents — the Predators and Flames — are in an all-out sprint in an effort to avoid finishing in the second wild-card spot and facing the top-seeded Hawks.The Predators and Flames are tied at 94 points heading into their regular-season finales Saturday. If the Flames — who hold the tiebreaker — beat the Sharks, the Hawks likely will get the Predators, who close against the Jets. The Blues are still a slim possibility, too, though they’re up a point ahead of both teams with two games left.The Hawks know the Predators well, having beaten them in the first round of their 2015 Stanley Cup run and having faced them 10 times in the two seasons since. The Flames, on the other hand, are a largely unknown commodity. The Hawks shrugged when asked whether it’s better to play a team they know well (and vice vera) or to play someone new.‘‘It’s really tough to say,’’ Hossa said. ‘‘They’re both really good hockey teams. And it doesn’t matter who you face; it’s going to be a big challenge. In the first round, everybody’s always energized and excited. It’s not easy to play against anybody.’’Quenneville hinted most of his big-name players will suit up for the regular-season finale in an attempt to keep them sharp for Game 1 next week. And while the only games that really matter to the Hawks on Saturday will be played in San Jose and Winnipeg, they’re going to try to treat the game against the Kings with a little more weight than the previous two on this trip because there’s no easing into things next week.‘‘You’re playing in the NHL,’’ winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘It’s another opportunity to play another game, another challenge, another opportunity to test ourselves against a good hockey team. I don’t think there’s any motivation problems in here at all. We’ve got a lot of guys trying to fill playoff positions and trying to present themselves to coaches for a spot in the lineup. There’s a lot of motivation for that.’’Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.Email: mlazerus@suntimes.comRELATED STORIESBlackhawks have been at home away from home this seasonBlackhawks going with skeleton crew as veterans get the night off 

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