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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Playoffs all that matter with Kane, Toews

By Jon Greenberg

CHICAGO -- It was a beautiful day for a puck-around.

Yes, it was gorgeous outside the United Center, but more importantly, it was the the hockey equivalent of blue skies and sunshine inside at the Chicago Blackhawks' morning skate before Wednesday's regular-season home finale against the Montreal Canadiens.

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are on pace to return for the playoffs.
(I call a morning skate a puck-around. That's patent pending stuff, folks.)

Patrick Kane, the slickest athlete in Chicago, returned to the team skate portion of the team's game-day warm-up session. After four days of working out with coaches, he skated, shot, scored and moved around with the relative elan of, well, Patrick Kane, Chicago's healthiest one-man show north of Chris Sale.

"He's been skating good," poet-warrior coach Joel Quenneville said.

Kane is expected back for the start of the postseason and will miss the final three games of the regular season, as planned. He hurt his knee in a game against St. Louis on March 19 and was put on long-term injured reserve two days later. The prognosis has been rosy from the start, but given hockey's Kremlin-like media policy about injuries, who knew for sure?

Quenneville chuckled and all but dodged a question about Kane's visible left knee brace.

"Everybody has some type of equipment enhancers," he said.

It's just precautionary, Kane said, and it won't hinder his unique blend of speed and grace.

The good news kept coming Wednesday. Captain Jonathan Toews (out with the nasty "upper body flu") is expected to skate Thursday. Quenneville said Toews and Kane will be 100 percent for the first game of the postseason. Not 97 percent, mind you. Someone should've asked why they won't be 110 percent.

Quenneville acquiesced to the media's party line of, "This could be a good thing, right?" and agreed that the extra rest afforded to the Blackhawks' two most important players could be a benefit for a run at repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

Of course, if both were back already, the storyline would be, "It's good that they're getting some games in before the playoffs."

"Yeah, it would've been nice to play some games before the playoffs, but it didn't work out that way due to the length of the injury and how long they wanted me to rest it," Kane said. "There's nothing you can do about it."

C'est la vie, as the Canadiens' media would say. They were in the house Wednesday morning, giving the media pack a playoff feel.

Hard to believe the postseason is finally here.

Maybe it's because the Blackhawks' post-Olympic muddle, complete with injuries to the team's two best players, has dimmed the Stanley Cup run-up a bit. The Hawks were 35-11-14 going into the Olympics and are 10-8-1 since, thanks to a three-game winning streak heading into Wednesday's game.

The nadir of the season was a 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh on March 30, their fourth loss in five games and, oh yeah, when Toews was knocked out by a hard Brooks Orpik hit.

The Blackhawks have picked it up a touch since then, but all that matters is what happens once the postseason begins.

All the talk about momentum and rest goes out the window and legacies are decided by lucky bounces, ricochets and power-play snipers.

The last time the Blackhawks tried to defend the Cup, the season was a lingering downer thanks to the salary-cap crunch. That team wound up exceeding expectations by taking Vancouver to seven games in the first round.

This season has been harder to define. As of Wednesday afternoon, it looks as though the Hawks won't have home-ice advantage in the first round, likely facing the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis.

During the regular season, Chicago won one of five against Colorado and two of five against St. Louis. But unlike the previous defending team, Chicago has a full complement of Cup talent if Toews and Kane are healthy.

There is much to be excited about, even if skepticism is high in Chicago. Once Kane and Toews take the ice for a real game, then the real season can begin.