CHICAGO | Good thing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are well-rested and as healthy as possible after grueling regular seasons that ended a few weeks early for them due to injuries and enforced rest by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
Every last shred of the Hawks stars’ physical skills and mental acumen will be needed to handle the angry, wounded animal otherwise known as the Blues, wobbling into the playoffs starting Thursday in St. Louis amid a late-season collapse that cost them the Central Division title.
Kane and Toews were as optimistic as any time during the tough season after a Monday workout with assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and Jamie Kompon.
“I feel pretty good,” said Kane, who injured his left knee March 19 against the Blues. “I had some time to rest. The right amount of time. You want to make sure you’re feeling good coming back. It’ll be nice to get a couple of skates with the team (today) and Wednesday, and the pre-game skate Thursday, and get ready to go.”
Toews was last seen in a March 30 game in Pittsburgh, cradling his left elbow and wincing in pain after being crunched against the boards by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. He could have returned last week if the playoffs had gotten under way or in a crucial situation, but Quenneville opted to rest Toews for the remainder of the regular season.
“You’ve been trying to rest up and be as mentally ready for the playoffs as you can,” Toews said. “I don’t feel like I lost anything. It was only a short while to be away from playing games.”
Quenneville has provided periodic updates on his stars’ recoveries. Kane apparently had the more serious injury. However, Quenneville had reported that he had been skating well for more than a week. He eased up on Toews’ workouts until the final week of the regular season.
“We know they’re ready,” Quenneville said. “Obviously they haven’t played games in awhile. But I think the level they’re accustomed to playing, I think they should be fine.”
Kane and Toews got more rest than their teammates. However, Quenneville began cutting back playing time of other stars. Norris candidate defenseman Duncan Keith spent Friday’s game in the pressbox in Washington, D.C. as a healthy scratch. Marian Hossa was pulled from the season finale in Nashville on Saturday immediately after reaching the 30-goal mark for the seventh time in his long career.
“I think every year is different,” Quenneville said. “I think we had a history here in the last few years. You learn that certain times of the year, it’s a long stretch, it’s a heckuva grind. We’re coming off a big grind from last year through the Olympic break. I think rest is sometimes important. Keeping guys fresh, with days off away from the rink is something that hopefully pays dividends at this time of the year.
“You can tell sometimes when they have a day off and how they hit the ice the next day. You can see the pace, you can feel the pace and I think it makes a difference having fresh guys, especially now.”
The Kane and Toews injuries cost the Hawks their last chances to jump ahead of the Blues and Avalanche for home-ice advantage in the first round.
However, there was a silver lining in compensation. Several young players like winger Jeremy Morin played well in their absence and put themselves in Quenneville’s playoff-roster consideration.