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Blackhawks Fri Apr 11 2014
With just two games remaining on the Blackhawks' regular season schedule, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to recover from their respective injuries (Kane: lower-body injury; Toews: upper-body injury) in preparation for the postseason and defense of the Stanley Cup.
Not since 2007 has the team been without both stars for an extended period of time. But thankfully with the steady play of Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, not to mention the emergence of Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin, the Hawks have rattled off four wins in a row (one in OT, a 3-2 winner over the Montreal Canadiens), and now await either the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues in the first round of divisional play.
Kane's injury was a bit of a freak accident, which occurred back on March 19, against the Blues. Brenden Morrow bounced off Sheldon Brookbank and into Kane's left knee, which immediately buckled the Hawks' second-leading scorer. The Toews injury was a little more controversial when Brooks Orpik took a run at the Captain, a clean hit but certainly close to questionable, while Toews was going after the puck in the offensive zone corner.
Everyone called for blood after the Toews injury, but cooler heads prevailed despite the 4-1 loss to the Penguins. Since then, the Hawks went unbeaten in the month of April and what seemed like the end of world at the time, has become an afterthought with the team rallying around its two stars with goals instead of bare knuckles.
Earlier in the week, Kane began skating with the team and was quoted as saying he'd be 100 percent for the playoff run, which will begin sometime next week. The same applies to Toews, who according to head coach Joel Quenneville, should also be at 100 percent by the time the playoffs begin.
So then the biggest question to ask is whether the rest will help both Kane and Toews or if time off the ice will effect their ability to get back into the groove. It's asked about teams in Major League Baseball who dominate the entire season, clinch early and then rest before the playoffs versus a wild-card team fighting for its life to barley make it in.
That might be a bit of a loose reference, but you can be sure that this time off certainly will help both Kane and Toews -- not just because of their need to heal, but also because of the whirlwind of activity since winning the Cup last June.
The break after the postseason last year marked the shortest in NHL history. This was due to the compressed schedule of last year's lockout and needing to delay the season in order to fit in 48 games. Factor in the each player touring with the Cup, 10 players, including both Kane and Toews, heading to Sochi for the Winter Olympics, and that makes for a tiring run even on young legs.
Both players are talented enough to pick right back up where they left off prior to their injuries; it's going to be the mental aspect of possibly re-injuring themselves that could play a role.
You can bet that each opposing player -- David Backes of the Blues, for example -- will target Kane's knee or Toews's shoulder/head as a way to intimidate with physical play that always intensifies during the postseason. How they respond, or, more importantly, how their teammates respond (looking at you, Brandon Bollig and Andrew Shaw) could factor in whether the Hawks escape the first or second round by being able to keep a level head and stay out of the penalty box out of retaliation.
Currently, the Avs are tied with the Blues for the number one divisional seed and hold the tiebreaker. That means the Blues would host the Hawks if the playoffs started today. At this point, the Hawks would play at either St. Louis or Colorado in the first round, depending how either team fares with two games remaining each.
Kane and Toews will be a welcome sight for Hawks fans upon their return, and will look to contribute like they did all season. Their health and rest could be a huge X-factor to a team that already seems to be getting in gear for another run.