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Blackhawks Tue Apr 14 2015

Patrick Kane Cleared to Play for Blackhawks, but Is It Too Soon?

Chicago Blackhawks It's been 49 days since Patrick Kane broke his left collarbone when Florida Panthers' defenseman Alex Petrovic put a mild cross-check on the league's leading scorer. Kane was given 10-12 weeks of recovery time by doctors, which put Blackhawks fans in a state of depression and general manager Stan Bowman in a trading mood.

During that stretch, the Blackhawks went 12-8-1, often trading places with the St. Louis Blues in the standings, until the gas tank ran on empty the last four games of the season. Forty-nine days later, the Blues clinched the Central, the Hawks managed to keep pace with the floundering Nashville Predators in the loss column and start the first round on the road, and Kane was cleared to participate in Game One of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A lot has changed, but one question remained the same: would Kane's shoulder hold up come playoff time, especially when contact is intensified? The prognosis had Kane coming back deep into the postseason; however, now that Kane has been cleared to return five weeks earlier than expected, that initial question has changed: is Kane returning too early?

The Hawks, with Kane, managed to win three of four games against Nashville this season, which includes a win in overtime and a win in a shootout. The latter wouldn't occur with the upcoming schedule, but the Hawks have proven to play well against Pekka Rinne, who finished third in the league in goals-against average with a thin 2.18.

The Habs' Carey Price will win the Vezina, but Rinne, who has a history of riding a hot glove, could carry his team deep to earn him the Conn Smythe. Odds are this is why Kane is more than likely going to play in Game One, especially considering the Hawks power play and offense looked like it was spending time on IR.

There's no doubt Kane's return will help rejuvenate an offense in need of a boost and will help carry a bit of the load off of captain Jonathan Toews' shoulders. Toews has done yeoman's work in Kane's absence, scoring 10 points (five goals, five assists) in the first 10 games Kane was out. Toews's two-way play puts him in the elite, but when the bubble burst on the Hawks' scoring with Kane out, the captain stepped up his offense and is part of the reason the team fought off a wild-card berth in the first round.

The opposition will look to target Kane's shoulder, which may convince Joel Quenneville to put a bigger body on the second line to help protect the winger. But with Kane's speed on the ice, as recently showed in practice, he should be able to avoid any trouble along the boards.

The Hawks probably could have waited a game or two before putting Kane back into the lineup, despite being cleared. There's still more than enough talent on this team to find its way out of losing streak that closed out the season.

Perhaps it's because this is the last go-around for most of the players on this team, due to the impending salary-cap dump. Remember after the 2010 Cup season? Look for the same to occur after this season, win or lose.

With that said, it's apparent Bowman and company aren't going to take any chances and wait to rebuild another deep contender in a few years' time. And with Quenneville achieving what he has since taking over, and Detroit's Mike Babcock's contract ending after this season, there might be more of a complete face-lift than initially expected.

In the end, Kane's play will help, and odds are he'll be fine back on the ice. A more conservative approach might be the smartest play, but much like the cap come next season, waiting on Kane might not be a move Bowman can afford.

 
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