Jonathan Toews returns to Blackhawks lineup amid battle with long COVID

The Blackhawks captain, who missed two months with long-covid symptoms and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, was given a raucous ovation ahead of his return.

Despite reports of a career in jeopardy, Jonathan Toews has made his triumphant return, as the Chicago Blackhawks captain suited up for the first time since January 28th on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

The 34-year-old, who has missed the Blackhawks' last 27 games with long-covid symptoms as well as Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, was well received by the home crowd, who honoured the club’s longest-tenured leader with a raucous ovation following his introduction.

Along with an 8-for-12 mark in the faceoff dot in 14 minutes of ice time, Toews picked up an assist in his return on a nifty feed to Andreas Athanasiou, marking the Winnipeg native’s first helper since January 19th against the Philadelphia Flyers.

While the night ended poorly on the scoreboard for the Blackhawks, falling 6-3 to a New Jersey Devils squad that outmatched them in every way, the night was nothing short of jovial for Blackhawks fans who feared they may never see their captain play another game.

"I’m just trying to focus and concentrate on the game," Toews said postgame. "But there’s no doubt you hear that when you step on the ice. It felt good to get that coming back tonight."

Asked to assess the way his game went, Toews was pleased with his performance, though admitted it took some time to find his legs having been away for an extended stretch.

"Overall, I definitely feel like I’m in a good place, progressing, since the time off," he said. "It’s just working, trying to get better every game for the rest of the year here."

Toews has been open in recent weeks about his future with the Blackhawks and the uncertainty looming over these final games of the season. With reports surfacing earlier last month that he was contemplating retirement, Toews spoke last week about the possibility of this being the end of his storied tenure in Chicago.

"Regardless of what happens in the future this summer, it’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here in Chicago as a Blackhawk," Toews told reporters.

"It just got to the point where I couldn’t move on the ice and didn’t even want to put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink, so it was pretty rough there for a bit," Toews said of his recent health struggles.

Is this really the end of the Toews-Blackhawks era? (Getty)
Is this really the end of the Toews-Blackhawks era? (Getty)

"It probably took me a couple of weeks of just wrestling with, in my own mind, trying to figure out what the right decision was, if I should keep trying to push through it… Or kind of pulling the plug in and trying to focus my energy on getting better."

There’s little doubt that if Chicago’s final seven games including tonight are Toews’ last stanza, he’ll have plenty to be proud of in his illustrious career. The three-time Stanley Cup champion and surefire Hall of Famer has amassed 881 career points, the seventh-highest mark of any Chicago Blackhawk, while playing 1,061 games, the fifth most in Blackhawks history.

This season, Toews has 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points in 47 games played. He’s in the final year of an eight-year, $84-million contract signed back in 2014.