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Quenneville focused on present with Panthers in return to Chicago

Coach to face Blackhawks, who he guided to three Stanley Cup championships

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Joel Quenneville said he's not thinking about it that much.

The Florida Panthers coach is focused on getting his team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which they've missed six of the past seven seasons. But the memories he made as coach with the Chicago Blackhawks, who he led to the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and will face for the first time since being fired Nov. 6, 2018, are never too far away.

"I know I had a lot of great days," said Quenneville, whose Panthers will play the Blackhawks at United Center on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSCH, FS-F, NHL.TV). "It was always fun walking into the UC and doing your thing. It's a whole different animal coming in with [the Panthers], but the moments are special there, and the people around the building, and the team, the Blackhawks, their staff and players. Certainly, great memories."

Quenneville helped turn the Blackhawks from a struggling franchise into one of the NHL's elite, going 452-249-96 in 11 seasons. He became the second winningest coast in the League with his 783rd victory, passing Al Arbour, when the Blackhawks defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 at Bell Centre on Jan. 14, 2016.

In his NHL coaching career, Quenneville is 917-548-142 with 77 ties in 1,684 games with the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Blackhawks and Panthers.

"He's like an icon in Chicago, whether it's him winning three Stanley Cups [or] coming in and helping us become better players," forward Patrick Kane said. "Obviously, what he's done here in his career is amazing. I'm sure he'll get a warm reception."

Video: Coach of the Decade: Joel Quenneville

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford expects that, too.

"Oh, the crowd's going to go nuts, for sure," he said. "I'm sure there'll be a bunch of Q chants. This fan base, this city really grew to love him as a coach and as a person. I mean, that's sports. Things come to an end at one point, and it was unfortunate to see. Then again, it was great to be in this locker room and play for that guy."

Defenseman Duncan Keith, who won the Norris Trophy voted as best NHL defenseman in 2010 and 2014 and was voted the unanimous Conn Smythe Trophy winner for most valuable player in the 2015 playoffs, gave Quenneville credit for the player he's become.

"He really molded me, and more than anything, I think he believed in me as a player, as a person, to be one of the guys who was counted on in those situations," Keith said. "As a player, you dream of those situations, so I'm very thankful of that and appreciative of him. It helped me grow as a player and ultimately, I tried to help the team and we were all in it together. It'll be a little bit different seeing him on the other side, for sure, but nothing but great things, great memories and it'll be fun to see him again."

Between his firing in Chicago in November 2018 and being named Panthers coach on April 8, 2019, Quenneville stepped away from hockey. He spent time with family and traveled and said the opportunity to rest and regroup was beneficial.

Video: Bobrovsky leads Panthers to fourth straight victory

"I didn't mind being away from the game a little bit," Quenneville said. "I think it was healthy, I think it was good. A little family time, a little bit of everything, and it was a different way of looking at the game. It was more from an entertainment point of view. Then you're back in it again [with the Panthers] and all of a sudden, it's nice to recapture that emotion and that intensity. And as we're going along this season, it seems like that's ratcheting up on a daily basis."

The reunion aside, this is a critical game for both teams. The Panthers (27-16-5) have won five in a row and are in third place in the Atlantic Division, three points behind the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blackhawks (24-20-6) have won five straight games and are three points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. 

Quenneville will enjoy his brief return to Chicago, but the focus remains on the Panthers.

"We've done some good things, we score like we used to score in Chicago. Pucks go in the net for us. The thing is, we have to defend better. That's the challenge," Quenneville said. "We're right there. We've been in a competitive spot all year, on the cusp of being a playoff team, and we know that's always been our challenge. 

"We'd like to get a little bit of an area where you'd look like you're making inroads to stabilizing a playoff spot, but it probably looks like we'll be battling it out as we go along here all year." 

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