Jonathan Toews was figuring out the best way to protect himself once he gets back from his concussion.
Maybe Ill let Kaner go do the dirty work once in a while, Toews joked on Tuesday afternoon.
While Toews injury has been no laughing matter, the Blackhawks captain has reason to smile now: hes been cleared for contact, hes responding well to it and his return is imminent.
Toews is hopeful to return on Thursday when the Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul. Its been a long wait for Toews, who said he cant wait to get out there again. Still, hes trying to temper his enthusiasm; as much as hed like to get into these last two regular-season games, he wants to make sure hes absolutely ready to go.
I hope (Ill play Thursday). But again, even when Im ready to start playing there are going to be some days where I have to progress toward feeling like myself, Toews said. Emotionally and mentally Ill be ready to play hockey more than anything. Im so excited to get back on the ice. When you havent played in a long time like that, whether its playoffs or not, its fun to go back out there and be part of the room again.
The Blackhawks faced a similar situation last season when they hoped to get a concussed Dave Bolland in the lineup before the regular-season ended. That didnt happen, as Bolland didnt return until Game 4 of the teams first-round matchup with Vancouver. Still, that didnt stop Bolland from making an immediate impact.
"You dont like to catch up to the pace of a playoff game, Quenneville said. Hopefully (Toews) can get his feet wet here, but were not sure of that.
Toews said hes been killing time by walking around town and spending time with brother David, who was injured last month and has visited Jonathan in Chicago. And, of course, hes been counting the days until he can return. If he is ready to go the final two games give Toews a chance to get his legs back under him before the playoffs begin next week.
No matter who we get in the first round, its going to be a tough opponent, Toews said. You see the pace of play, especially in that first round. Most teams would say, you compare the first to other rounds, its probably tougher because no matter who you get, teams are ready to play and excited. The pace is so much higher than what youre used to.
While watching has been tough, Toews has been impressed with how the Blackhawks have done without him. They went 10-2-2 in March, clinched their playoff berth over the weekend and have gotten contributions across the board. Toews said the potential for a long playoff run is there.
Not being around the locker room isnt too much fun. But from the outside looking in you can see were gaining that confidence, he said. All year we knew we were a playoff team. That whole season youre just preparing for what kind of team youre going to be in the postseason. We have a real potential to do something special again and thats what we need to set our sights on.
So where will Toews fit in when he does return? Quenneville said the staff has talked about throwing him right back to No. 1 center, and perhaps moving Marian Hossa or Patrick Kane to the left wing. Quenneville would like to make as few changes as possible, considering how well all of the lines are doing right now.
For Toews, it doesnt matter. Wherever he ends up, its better than where hes been the last month and a half.
Like Ive said Im not expecting anything, he said. I just want to be part of the team and contribute where I can, and hopefully make a difference.