Blackhawks

Patrick Kane cleared to return to Blackhawks lineup

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Patrick Kane cleared to return to Blackhawks lineup

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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.