Patrick Kane emerged from the locker room wearing the familiar red sweater of a top-six forward.
Gone was that white don’t-hit-me sweater Kane wore during his last practice with the Blackhawks. He was cleared for contact and is taking some hits around that fractured left clavicle that’s cost him the past seven weeks.
When asked after practice if Kane could play Wednesday when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series, coach Joel Quenneville said, “yeah he could.” Later in the afternoon, however, that likely turned into a definitely.
Kane was cleared for full participation a few hours after practice, the team announced. Dr. Michael Terry released a statement regarding Kane around 5 p.m. Monday.
“Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty,” the statement read. “After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick today, we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”
Kane was back on the second line with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards – the trio that was stellar from mid-November through December – on Monday. Speaking before he was fully cleared, Kane was happy with his progress.
“Where I’m at right now is [to] just to kind of go through practice today and get as ready as possible and try to feel what it’s like to be in a game simulation,” he said. “I thought it was a good day, a good practice for the team overall. Overall, I feel pretty good. I just have to take it day by day right now.”
For Kane the wait’s been long, although not as long as originally expected. He credits the Blackhawks’ doctors and staff for that. Kane said he “pretty much had full range of motion within the first week” following his Feb. 25 surgery. He’s taken some contact, some pushing and shoving, but nothing severe. That will likely change when he does return to the lineup; it’s the playoffs and big hits are just par for the course, whether you’re coming off an injury or not.
Kane admits he’ll be thinking about when that first big hit comes.
“A little bit. I think like anything you try to be cautious with it at first,” he said. “I've talked with different guys who that have had the injury and they say when you're cleared, you're cleared. You just have to have some faith and trust in the healing process.”
Richards, who missed the Blackhawks’ last three regular-season games with an upper-body injury, skated with Kane over the past week.
“He just looks like Patrick to me…” he said. “Today was another day that was a step in the right direction for Kaner and for other guys, so you wake up tomorrow and come back at it and see where you’re at. Either way, it’s exciting for everybody because we know we’re starting the best part of what we do, is starting Wednesday night, so that’s exciting for everybody.”
With Kane’s return the Blackhawks get a jolt in a lot of ways. He was the most consistent scorer and led the NHL in points at the time of his injury. He’s key on the power play and also critical to the team’s puck-possession game, which has struggled in his absence.
“Yeah, it gives us a boost in offense and just overall play and our depth. We missed him,” Bryan Bickell said. “I thought we did pretty good at the start without him but not as of late. We couldn’t find a way to get goals. Hopefully he can spark us on the power play, which is needed. There are going to be more special teams in the playoffs.”
The light is green for Kane’s return. The Blackhawks were looking for a boost, a jolt, entering this postseason. They just got it.