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Kane's return spells excitement for Blackhawks

4/15/2015

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane’s hockey mane is not at the level of his teammate Patrick Sharp’s coiffure, which is to say it’s not protected by city landmark status.

So with the Stanley Cup playoffs on tap, Kane got his usual Joe Dirt postseason haircut: a mullet with lines on the side.

It’s certainly a look. And for him, a duty.

“Yeah, I think it’s kind of like one of those things I have to do for the playoffs now, not just for myself but for the team in here [and] for the fans, as well,” Kane said after practice Tuesday. “It seems like a lot of different people enjoy it. I’ll continue the tradition, I guess.”

While everyone loves a mullet, what his teammates and fans really enjoy is watching the 26-year-old Kane play hockey, a truly singular experience, and that's the real good news.

“It’s official?” captain Jonathan Toews said when he met the media Tuesday.

Yes, Kane is back, and he will play in the Blackhawks’ playoff opener Wednesday in Nashville. The Blackhawks forward and 2013 Conn Smythe winner missed the team’s last 21 games with a broken left clavicle suffered Feb. 24.

That was also the night Derrick Rose’s meniscus injury was announced. Rose is already back and looking good as the NBA playoffs approach. Now it’s Kane’s turn.

Kane’s original, albeit conservative, return timeline was 12 weeks. Wednesday will be seven weeks since his surgery. He’s not the first player to come back from this injury way ahead of schedule, but Kane wouldn’t give a return date Monday. After he spoke to reporters, he had X-rays. After a meeting with team doctors and officials, the Blackhawks sent an email announcing he was cleared for full participation late Monday afternoon.

“It’s been a long 50 days here,” Kane said Tuesday. “So it’s a credit to a lot of hard work by the doctors and trainers. Just listening to them, trying to heal as fast as possible.”

Like all athletes in situations such as this one, Kane stressed he wasn’t focused on when he’d return as he worked on how he would do it. That makes sense, given that all he could control was the rehab effort. But let’s be real: He wanted to be back for the start of the postseason. Who wouldn’t?

Kane is a spotlight magnet, and for the Blackhawks to make a postseason run, they need him to show up in big moments. No one's saying this is a Stanley Cup team, but everyone is 0-0 right now.

Although the Blackhawks (48-28-6) went a respectable 12-8-1 without Kane, they desperately missed his creativity and 1.05 points per game, the third-best mark of his career and fourth-best in the NHL this season. Kane was tied for the NHL points lead, with 27 goals and 37 assists in 61 games, when he got hurt.

Chicago lost four straight while scoring a whopping five goals going into the playoffs. They were held to two or fewer goals in 12 of the games Kane missed.

“It’s tough to sit out,” he said. “It’s tough to watch games when you feel like you could be playing. But that was the whole process of it. Hopefully, it’s one of those things that can make me stronger, get me some more excitement. You get the right type of rest and energy, and you have some more going into the playoffs.

“It’s almost like it’s a new season for me, and I’m sure a lot of guys feel that way in here. It’s definitely exciting to get back and do something that I love.”

Kane missed the final 12 games going into the past season’s playoffs and then got off to a slow start, with one point in the first three games. But he wound up with 20 points in 19 games, including four game-winners, which tied him with Toews for the NHL lead.

Although he’s still a “Showtime” player at his core, it’s probably key that Kane doesn’t stress over trying to score a goal every shift.

“Obviously, as a player you feel like you can bring some different things to the lineup and try to help certain things out there, but I don’t think I’m going to try and go out there and be the one and only savior,” Kane said. “I’m just going to try and play my game.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville isn't much of a hype man. But he said he thought Kane’s “appetite to play, participate and be a team [player] is as high as it’s ever been.”

“He’s one of those guys you can’t keep off the ice,” Quenneville said. “So I think this time of year, him joining the team, everybody’s got to be excited about it, and I think nobody is more excited than himself.”