CHICAGO - It was supposed to be a day of rest for the Chicago Blackhawks.
But the Western Conference champs opted to get right back to work yesterday after the Flyers wrapped up the Eastern Conference crown on Monday, and the NHL decreed a quick start to the Stanley Cup finals.
So, 2 days after completing a Western Conference finals sweep over San Jose, the Blackhawks were happy to shift focus to their next foe as they conducted an hourlong practice at Johnny's Ice House, their West Chicago training rink.
"It would be a lot nicer if it started on Thursday or Friday, especially when you're playing good like this," said Chicago winger Patrick Kane. "But I guess you can also use the rest to your advantage and try to get ready. And we'll all be ready for Game 1."
Much of the talk centered around the Blackhawks' respect for the surging Flyers and hot goalie Michael Leighton, who is 6-1 since taking over for injured Brian Boucher during the Boston series. Leighton played 42 games for the Blackhawks from 2002-04.
"They almost have the same makeup as us," Kane said. "They have their veterans, they have their young leaders and a lot of lines with depth.
"I think there are similar matchups. We haven't studied them much yet but just from watching them [Monday] night they're really good on the penalty kill, they don't give up too many great opportunities, so we'll have to try to change that . . . And [Leighton] obviously has played very good."
Chicago, meanwhile, has a hot netminder of its own. Antti Niemi has won five straight and eight of his last nine, with steady and occasionally spectacular postseason efforts. His 2.33 goals-against average is second among playoff goalies. Leighton (1.45) leads but his minutes (454) are half that of Niemi's.
Niemi says even as he and his team have reached hockey's biggest stage, he's trying to remain on an even keel.
"After each round it gets a little bigger and more exciting," he said. "But at the same time, you want to keep your focus at the same level."
Burly forward Dustin Byfuglien, who beat the Sharks with game-winning goals in back-to-back games last week, said he doesn't expect the Flyers to put an extra focus on him.
"I don't think anyone's going to go out of their way to do anything different," he said. "I don't think they'll focus on me when they've got Kane and [Jonathan] Toews out there too."
But the Blackhawks are mindful of the outcome of their lone meeting with the Flyers this season. Scott Hartnell and Chris Pronger each scored in the final 2 minutes, 4 seconds to lift Philadelphia to a 3-2 victory on March 13.
"We know what we're getting into with this team and know how they're going to be," said Chicago center Dave Bolland. "We'll be ready for them."