By Adam Harris–

Johnny’s Ice House, Chicago, IL – Coach Joel Quenneville made his return to the Blackhawks today, coaching practice with no restrictions.

“Certainly I felt good enough to come back [earlier],” Quenneville said. “I might have missed the first game, but felt fine to come back the last three. We had to get our blood work up to a different level. So the build up is still not processed, but I couldn’t feel any better.”

Quenneville has been away from the team since last Tuesday when he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with an ulcer in his stomach. Despite what some believe, however, the ulcer was not caused from stress of Quenneville’s job.

“I think you guys are going to have a hard time believing this but this has nothing to do with stress,” a happy Quenneville said today after practice. “Aspirin is what induced the bleeding ulcer. Years of taking it and probably taking too much of it…I was taking it for other reasons [than stress], but I guess that’s one of the side effects.”

Quenneville was in a very good mood to be back coaching his team today, but just because it was his first day back did not mean he was easy on his team.

“He was back to his usual intense self,” Troy Brouwer said. “[Quenneville] made sure guys were accountable out there, whether it’s missing passes or missing assignments in the zone. He’s back to himself and we wouldn’t expect anything else.”

The intensity is needed for this Blackhawks team who won three of the four games that Quenneville missed. The team needs to keep their focus to keep the momentum going.

“To be honest I don’t think it had anything to do with Q being gone,” Brouwer said. “It’s something that needed to be done on our part. We hadn’t been winning hockey games consistently, and that’s what we needed to focus on. Whether Q’s here or Q’s not here we need to win hockey games…When he came back he expressed how good of a job we did with him gone.”

The Blackhawks are involved in a very tight race for the playoffs in the Western Conference. The team is tied with three other teams at 68 points for the eighth playoffs spot. Playoff spots five, six, and seven are owned by teams with 70 points, just two ahead of the defending champions.

“It seems like everybody, six or seven teams, are all fighting for the same [playoff spot],” Quenneville said. “[The last four games] really put us in a good spot, and now we’ve got four games coming up against teams that are all in the same airspace we’re at. It’s a huge stretch and a great test for us as we go along here. Let’s gather that momentum that we left St. Louis with and keep it going.”

The Blackhawks next five games are against teams that are currently in the playoffs. One against the Flyers who are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, and another one against the Coyotes who are the three seed in the Western Conference. Quenneville is right when he says this is a critical stretch of games if the Hawks want to make the playoffs.

First game is against the Nashville Predators tomorrow night in Nashville. The Predators are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference with 70 points. Puck drops at 7 pm.

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