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CHICAGO -- No player ever wants to get hurt, but in the case of Brian Campbell, his five-week absence was the best PR campaign he's had since joining the Chicago Blackhawks.
Until that fateful Sunday on March 14, when Campbell suffered a broken clavicle and fractured ribs after Alex Ovechkin pushed him into the end boards, the star defenseman was known mostly in these parts as the player making $7.14 million a season.
But something funny happened while he was out. The fans missed him. The media noticed his absence. Suddenly, he became the top-four blueliner whose 23 minutes a game and puck-moving skills were impossible to replace.
Campbell, while taking his skates off in the Hawks' dressing room Monday morning, started to laugh when we pointed this out to him.
"I think it was about a week into my injury, and my dad came down because I was pretty much useless and needed some help," Campbell said. "We both looked at each other and said, 'Maybe it's better to be hurt, you get better press coverage that way.'"
Campbell is indeed a valuable part of this Blackhawks team no matter what his salary is. He posted 38 points in 68 games this season with a plus-18 rating.
"I felt pretty good about my year; obviously you always want to be better," Campbell said. "I felt I can help this team. The salary is what it is. You're going to get booed or whatever because of it; [with] a lot of players that happens. I think last year, I wasn't used to it because in Buffalo, I was one of the lower-paid guys. You're under the microscope a little bit more, and that comes with the territory [of] being a professional hockey player. I'm just happy to be back now."
So are his teammates.
"He was missed, trust me," Hawks star winger Patrick Kane said Monday after the pregame skate. "Especially for a puck-moving defenseman like that, to have him back there, making a lot of plays, it helps out a lot, and sometimes you don't realize that. Maybe it was kind of nice to have him out a bit to see how much we appreciated him in the lineup. He's been really good ever since he came back; he seems to be getting into his groove."
Campbell came back in Game 4 against Nashville in the first round, and the Hawks closed out that series with three straight wins upon his return.
"He really gave us some puck possession and some speed out of the zone and relieved a lot of pressure," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Monday. "Because I thought early in that Nashville series, we were hemmed in our end a lot, and I thought he really added some speed, some quickness and some puck possession -- it was a welcome return by him. He adds a lot to our mix, be it our power play and five-on-five play. He's certainly an element with the ice time and the quality of the ice time that really enhances our options on the back end."
Campbell feels pretty close to A-game now, which wasn't the case in the Nashville series.
"Yeah, I think now it is, I wouldn't say it was in the Nashville series," the 30-year-old said. "But I felt really good in Game 1, tried to get up as much as I could and help out and try to create some chances."
The key was to forget about his injury; that's a mental hurdle once you're back on the ice.
"I felt good here in Game 1, felt like I got my confidence back," Campbell said. "Everything is all secure with the injury, so I don't think about it anymore, which is a big thing. Honestly, I thought about [the injury] quite a bit in the Nashville series. I'm ready to roll now."