ST. PAUL, Minn. — Patrick Kane suffered a broken left collarbone Feb. 24. He had surgery the next day, and the Chicago Blackhawks released a statement quoting a team doctor. “We anticipate a full recovery in approximately 12 weeks,” the doctor said.
Kane was supposed to be out until about May 20 – after the start of the Western Conference final, if the Blackhawks made it that far without him.
Well, Tuesday was May 5.
Still more than two weeks before he was supposed to have made a full recovery, Kane scored the lone goal as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild, 1-0, and took a 3-0 lead in their second-round series. He has five goals and six points in his past four games. He has six goals and 11 points in nine playoff games.
The ’Hawks are one win from their third consecutive conference final – and fifth in seven years – not without him but largely because of him.
“Obviously it’s nice to be playing hockey with your teammates instead of sitting out watching,” Kane said. “That was tough. But I’m just happy to be here, happy to be part of the team right now and playing games.”
The amazing thing isn’t that Kane is playing. The prognosis was conservative, and because Kane’s legs were fine, he was able to skate and stay in shape while the bone healed. Guys push the boundaries all the time in hockey, especially in the playoffs. He took a hit Tuesday night, stayed down grimacing for a moment, then popped up and sprinted down the ice.
The amazing thing is that Kane is producing like this. He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 177 pounds. He sat out for seven weeks. He jumped back into the lineup for the playoff opener – at the time of year when opponents are notorious for targeting injuries, when there is more intensity and less space, when so many stars struggle to score. And basically he picked up where he left off.
“It seemed like it took him 20 minutes in the first game to get back up to speed, and he was flying again,” said defenseman Brent Seabrook. “It’s a special guy to be able to do that.”
Kane was the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft. He became famous for sick hands and timely scoring. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, he had 10 goals and 28 points in 22 playoff games, including the Cup-clinching goal in overtime. When they won the Cup again in 2013, he had nine goals and 19 points in 23 games and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player.
He was having a hell of a season in 2013-14 – 29 goals and 69 points in 69 games – when he suffered a knee injury. He sat out almost a month. He came back for the playoff opener. With a bulky brace on the knee, he scored in the first period. He finished with eight goals and 20 points in 19 playoff games, as the Blackhawks went to overtime of Game 7 of the conference final.
Now he’s doing it again to a greater degree. He had 27 goals and 64 points in 61 games, tied for the NHL scoring lead, when the Florida Panthers’ Alex Petrovic pushed him from behind and he crumpled into the boards.
“Prior to his injury, he was as good as any player in the league was this year,” said coach Joel Quenneville. “He was having that MVP-type season. … His consistency was there this year. He had speed. He had the puck. He was a threat. Whatever line or whoever was playing with him, he made them better. And obviously it was a huge loss at that time.”
As it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise. The Blackhawks kept winning and used the salary-cap space they gained by putting Kane on long-term injured reserve to acquire Andrew Desjardins, Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette before the trade deadline. A deep team got even deeper, and Kane was cleared for contact and returned for the playoff opener April 15 – five weeks before he was supposed to have made a full recovery.
“You could see in the first game he was working his way through it,” Quenneville said.
Still, he had two assists in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators, and he has been held off the scoresheet only once, in Game 3 of the first round.
“I was trying to get [the timing] back as quick as possible, whether it was practices or games or whatever it may be,” Kane said. “Sometimes it takes a little while. Sometimes you kind of catch it right away.”
Kane plays on a loaded team but doesn’t fully benefit from it. He rarely plays on a line with Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp. He used to play with an aging Michael Handzus as his centerman, and now he has been playing with an aging Brad Richards as his centerman with Kris Versteeg or Bryan Bickell on the opposite wing.
His line badly lost the possession battle Tuesday night. When he was on the ice, the Blackhawks had seven shot attempts and the Wild had 18 – a minus-11 differential. He had one shot on goal, a wrister on the rush, and it slipped through the pads of goaltender Devan Dubnyk. His shooting percentage is 21.4 in these playoffs, well above his career average, so there is some luck involved here.
“I still don’t know if I have it completely back yet,” Kane said. “When you’re scoring goals, sometimes things look a little bit better than they actually are. I think there’s a lot of things you can do better, whether it’s defensively or making strong plays with the puck or getting the puck more to create a little more.”
But man, Kane has so much talent, he’s able to find space and make the most of his chances, even when they’re limited.
“He doesn’t need much to be effective out there,” Seabrook said. “He gets a little glimpse of sunlight, and he’s able to find a way to make something happen.”
Kane now has 43 goals and 102 points in 102 playoff games in his NHL career.
“I think we’ve done a good job, in all honesty,” said Wild captain Zach Parise, who has played with Kane on Team USA. “We denied him the puck a lot, I thought. But he’s the type of guy, he gets that one look, and it’s in. … He’s played really well. I mean, it’s always tough coming back from an injury for anybody, but he’s not showing too many signs of still being hurt.”
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