The Blackhawks' Daniel Carcillo had an assist in their Game 1 victory over the Wings.
Carcillo was a healthy scratch during spurts of the regular season and was left out of the lineup during the team's first three playoff games. While he's since played in the last three playoff games and contributed an assist in Wednesday's 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of their second-round series, he still isn't taking anything for granted.
"I think it's more of a mental game than anything," Carcillo said. "But it's a day-in and day-out experience where you need to be sharp in practice and especially during games. It puts the onus on yourself to kind of play a perfect game and help the team any way you can. When the team's clicking like the last game, it's great, but I think we still actually have a lot more to give."
Carcillo's entire season has been full of ups and downs. After suffering a season-ending knee injury last season, he returned this season and suffered another severe knee injury, this time to the other knee, in the season opener. He missed 15 games due to the injury.
Carcillo played from late February to the middle of March, but then Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville became dissatisfied with Carcillo's game and began playing him less regularly. Carcillo was scratched in 14 of the team's final 26 regular season games.
"It's been tough," Carcillo said of his season. "The lineup has been great. Obviously the team is winning. Coming back from a knee injury isn't the easiest thing to do when you're in and out of the lineup as much as I was. Getting a rhythm and staying in game shape, getting comfortable again back on the ice and with the pace and stuff was a challenge, but I feel like I have a good grasp on it now. Not too worried about the past."
Quenneville said Friday a healthy scratch is not easy on the coach or the player.
"We're kind of in that spot most of the season whether it was the back end or up front," Quenneville said. "We had to tell some guys you're not playing. It's always difficult to get that news. When you tell them that, it's tough on that individual knowing that, hey, this is what they do, this is what they want to get their opportunity. Whether it's Carcillo or (Jamal Mayers), guys who were in and out of those spots, it's not easy."
Carcillo was frustrated with Quenneville's decision, but he never lost hope another chance was around the corner. Carcillo was especially optimistic he'd get an opportunity to prove himself during the playoffs.
"I've know my whole career what I can bring to the table, and I relish playing in playoff games and in a playoff atmosphere," Carcillo said. "I think that's when my game is best. I know what I can provide for a team. I just have that realization in myself. I was just staying in shape, staying positive, just biding my time and when I get in making the most of it."
Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger has played the past three games with Carcillo on the fourth line and believes he's made their line better.
"He's been great for us," Kruger said. "Playing with him has been pretty easy. He always gives energy and always skates hard. He's been important for us."
What Carcillo did to keep himself ready to play is what Quenneville advises all of his players who aren't in the lineup. Mayers, Brandon Bollig, Viktor Stalberg and Sheldon Brookbank have been healthy scratches in the playoffs after appearing during the regular season.
"Keeping the makeup that you're going to do everything you can to get yourself in that lineup, and you don't want to be back in that spot where you're being considered to be out," Quenneville said. "I think those guys are important guys to your team. You want to be sure that their morale and their intensity is in the right place and obviously it's a huge disappointment.
"Things change so quickly in our business whether it's the regular season and even more so come playoff time. You've got to keep yourself ready. You know you're going to be a part of it; you're going to be a big part of it, too. So put yourself back in that frame of mind that you're looking to the next chance and take advantage of the opportunity."