- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A final full practice for the Chicago Blackhawks before they take on the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinals matchup saw captain Jonathan Toews run all drills for a third day in a row.
Toews says he feels no affects from the concussion that sidelined him for the final 22 games of the regular season.
“I think I’m right there,” Toews said after practice at Jobing.com arena on Wednesday. “It’s another day of feeling better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as how I want to play a game.”
All week Toews has said he’ll wait until Thursday to announce if he’s playing but everything points to him being back in the lineup.
“The kind of the goal we set for ourselves with the training staff and the doctors, we’re going to make that decision [Thursday],” Toews said.
As open as Toews has been about his concussion there is little doubt the opposing team has taken notice. And it means Toews will need eyes in the back of his head.
“I don’t doubt that that’s going to put a target on my back, especially with this team; they like to play physical,” Toews said. “For any guy that is coming back from any sort of injury you don’t want to let him feel comfortable out there. I’m expecting it’s going to be even tougher than usual. That’s the way it is. Just go out there and play a gritty and smart game and keep things simple and make things happen out there.”
Noted tough guy Raffi Torres of the Coyotes wasn’t giving any bulletin board material when asked about the return of a concussed player after missing 22 games.
“Toews is too good of a player to knock off his game,” Torres said. “You just have to try and make it uncomfortable for him out there. That’s hard to do … He knows what it takes to be successful.”
The final hours: Both teams have had more than enough time to prepare for each other but the nitty-gritty work is still to come.
“Lots of meetings, lots of preparations,” Patrick Sharp said of the final 24 hours before game time. “I think everyone is excited to go through that and take what we can from it, but at the same time we just have to be ready to play Game 1.”
“We’ve had meetings everyday over the course of the week. We want to get playing here,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You can only say so much. It’s time to play. I think the guys are ready, they’re enthused. I think we want to make sure [they’re] not too excited out there. You want to make sure there is a purpose to your game.”
At the end of the day the Hawks believe -- as all playoff teams do -- they have as good a chance as anyone to go far this spring.
“I said it earlier in the week, you look at the Western Conference, I wouldn’t be surprised if any one team out of the eight wins the conference,” Sharp said. “Why can’t our name be in there as well? We have a good group here. We have a lot of experience. We love playing with each other. But you can say as much stuff as you want before the game; it comes down to what happens on the ice. And I think we’re ready to go.”
Quenneville explained his reasoning in choosing 40-year-old Sean O’Donnell for his final defenseman over rookie Dylan Olsen for Game 1. It came down to experience. “Down the stretch I think OD played well for us. We like his size and his thought process.”
Brent Seabrook and Torres said little about the incident from last year’s playoffs when Torres played for Vancouver. Torres hit Seabrook in the head knocking him out of the lineup. Both said they’ve moved on.
“If we had won all our games against this team I think it would be more dangerous instead of winning just one.”-- Toews, on the season series and not being complacent because of it.
“We’ve been joking around maybe we’re going to put two pucks on the ice so they can all have it.” -- Sharp, on the Kane-Toews-Hossa line combination.
“He’s ultra-competitive. He’s intense. And he makes the guys around him better through his intensity and with his play. If he doesn’t get hurt he's probably in the running for the Hart [Trophy] this year.”--Coyotes’ captain and No. 19 Shane Doan on his counterpart, Toews.
"He was one of the all-time greatest competitors ever. He would do anything for his team. As a player you couldn’t be more intense than Tippy.”-- Quenneville, on his former teammate and now head coach of Phoenix Dave Tippett.
20dDarren Rovell and Katie Strang