GLENDALE, Ariz. - After an eight-day combined All-Star and bye-week break, the Blackhawks were back on the ice on Thursday afternoon in Arizona, preparing for Saturday night's tilt against the Coyotes.
While players and coaches alike were able to get away for a few days and rest their bodies and minds, the week-plus absence brought with it a hunger to get back to work as Chicago looks to continue their hunt for a playoff spot down the final 31-game stretch.
"Yeah, speaking for myself, getting away from the game for a little bit (was good)," Jonathan Toews said after the first practice back. "Getting back this week, seeing some of the other games, seeing what's going on and tuning back in, I think definitely got that hunger, that excitement to get back."
"The days off were welcomed, obviously, but everyone was hungry to get back out there," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I'm sure there was some rust to kick off, but we've got two days of practice to do it and we're excited about the opportunity here. We've just got to make sure we're ready."
Video: Colliton on return from break
That big opportunity comes with Saturday's matchup between two teams in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Blackhawks sit three points out of a Wild Card spot as the calendar nears February, with the Coyotes holding that second and final position going into their game Thursday night against the Kings.
A four-point swing in the right direction in the first game back would be just the start Chicago needs to continue their momentum.
"Obviously (if) we can pick up two points and don't lose (our) game in-hand, it's a big momentum builder for the team," Colliton said. "We've had some games where we've rose to the challenge and then we had some games where we didn't. If we lose a game, it's not the end of the world, but it is a big opportunity."
The break not only allowed the guys who have been in the lineup night in and night out to recuperate in the middle of the season-long grind, but it was a welcomed lull in the schedule to allow the injured Dylan Strome (right ankle) and even a recently-returned Brandon Saad to take strides in their recovery without missing game action.
"We'll see with Strome (if he's ready to return), but even with a guy like Saad. He comes back and plays a couple games and I think everything went well, but that extra time off, that'll help him," Colliton said. "If you play a bunch of games in a row, a lot of games in short time after you come back from an injury like that, sometimes it can start to feel sore and hopefully we can avoid that with those days off."
Video: Strome returns to practice following ankle injury
Strome returned to full practice on Thursday for the first time since going down on Jan. 7 against Detroit.
"Getting there," Strome said of his ability to return to the lineup. "A game's a lot different than a practice, so (I'll) try to push it pretty hard tomorrow. Felt pretty good out there (today), did a lot of skating. It's an injury where you obviously don't want to make it worse ... Feels pretty good now, so happy about that."
"Obviously (we'll) get a feel for it now, but how does it react after that kind of stress (is the next obstacle)," Colliton added. "Hopefully he'll practice tomorrow and we'll see."