Patrick Kane has done the skating, taken the shots and absorbed a few hits. Now to see if there’s any rust or if he’s good to go from the start.
Kane is back and Antoine Vermette is definitely a healthy scratch when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series tonight at Bridgestone Arena.
The Blackhawks right wing, who missed the last seven weeks with a fractured left clavicle, said he’s not too worried about taking the punishment the Predators are likely to dole out. Coach Joel Quenneville said Kane will be fine. He also doubts Kane will be very rusty.
[Preview: Blackhawks begin playoff run on CSN]
“Watching him skate the last little while, he’s got a jump to his stride,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s excited about getting back for sure. Your top guys, you have to make sure over the course of a season you’re managing and taking away some minutes if you can. Him being fresh as a daisy over this stretch, I think that can help him. I don’t think it’ll take him too long to get up to speed.”
General manager Stan Bowman also figured Kane would get going quickly.
“I think he’ll get over that in a short amount of time,” Bowman said of potential rust. “In terms of taking a hit, he referenced it yesterday, he’s been dealing with people trying to hit him since he was eight years old. That’s nothing new. He’s pretty adept at rolling off pressure. A lot of it is just not putting yourself in position [to be hit]. He’s pretty smart that way. He’s always been a player targeted by other teams and he manages to get through it, so I think he’ll be fine.”
Predators center Mike Ribeiro talked about the task of trying to stop Kane.
“It’s a team concept on this side. That’s how you stop him, really, as a team,” he said. “When you play against the best in the world, you try to focus a little better against him and really take time and space.”
Michal Rozsival looks to be in tonight against the Predators. Kimmo Timonen, who missed the final three regular-season games with an upper-bodyinjury, is also expected to play.
And as expected from the last two days’ lines, Antoine Vermette is not playing tonight. Quenneville said the veteran understood when the two talked earlier today.
“It’s one of those situations, performance based, we made our decision based on the last part of the year. He was understanding of the situation,” Queneville said. “We know the depth’s going to be important as we go forward. At the same time, with his experience, I commend him for having the right attitude in a tough situation today. But our depth is something that can help pay dividends as you get deeper in the playoffs. We anticipate using him at any moment.”
Nevertheless it’s a surprise, not only because the center was acquired the stretch run, but also with the Blackhawks giving up a first-round pick and a defensive prospect for him. But Bowman also said not to take what happens in Game 1 as an edict for how the entire series/postseason will play out.
“We’re about to start Game 1 of hopefully a long playoff run. There’s a lot of focus, maybe too much focus, on Game 1 and the lineups,” Bowman said. “A lot of things change over the course of a playoff run, whether it’s certain players play or injuries or matchups or situations. It’s really too early to get too detailed on that. Antoine’s got a great approach, he’s excited to help whenever called upon and do his best.”