Rust? What rust? Patrick Kane rises to the occasion in his return

SHARE Rust? What rust? Patrick Kane rises to the occasion in his return

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Patrick Kane’s game declared Patrick Kane’s body healthy Wednesday night.

The doctors had already had their say. They had proclaimed him fully recovered, ready for duty and not at any more risk of reinjuring his surgically repaired clavicle than if he had never been hurt in the first place. But Kane has always spoken most eloquently with a puck on his hockey stick. And what he said wordlessly Wednesday was: Watch.

Watch what I do.

Watch me turn a disaster of a game into something beautiful for the Blackhawks.

Watch me slip a pass across the crease to Patrick Sharp to cut the Predators’ lead to 3-2 on a power-play goal in the second period.

Watch me feed Jonathan Toews to tie the game 3-3 on another power play in the period.

Just watch me.

Nashville could only stand and watch as the Hawks overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in double overtime in Game 1 of a first-round playoff series. Kane, making his first appearance since being injured Feb. 24, was a big reason for that. So was Scott Darling, who replaced Corey Crawford after one period and made several spectacular saves in the third period. He finished with 42 saves. Duncan Keith got the game winner.

Kane has a knack for rising to the moment, whether it be in the Stanley Cup Final or the Olympics, so we shouldn’t be surprised he’d be able to discard whatever rust he had accumulated during his convalescence. But this quickly?

“For a guy who missed the last 20 games or so of the regular season, if anybody can come back and not look out of place, it’s a guy like him,’’ Keith said afterward. “His skill level is so much higher than everybody else’s. His smarts are far ahead of everyone else’s as well.’’

It was if Kane hadn’t missed a game. And coach Joel Quenneville didn’t shy away from rolling him onto the ice shift after shift. The Hawks’ front office is checking Q’s phone records to see if he has been consulting with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

“The first game you don’t expect to play five periods,’’ Kane said, smiling. “That’s what it took (Wednesday night). Obviously, it wasn’t a good start for us. We battled back.’’

The Predators helped the situation. Rather than challenge Kane, they chose not to be overly physical with him. That had to do with the fear of being publicly humiliated by the Hawks’ star. You can’t blame them. No one wants to be stripped down to his underwear on national TV.

“He almost relishes it when you’re running at him, because he’s going to make you look stupid,’’ Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said last week. “He’s got such a high hockey IQ and great skills that he’s going to backhand pass and spin around you and turn it into a 2-on-0 or a 2-on-1.’’

The Hawks didn’t seem overly worried about Kane’s physical well-being. He might be a slight 5-foot-11, 177 pounds, but he has the ability to avoid the brunt of hits. Opponents often look like they’re chasing smoke. Most of the time. Kane suffered that broken clavicle when Florida’s Alex Petrovic cross-checked him into the boards.

“He’s been dealing with people trying hit him since he was eight years old,’’ Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “That’s nothing new. He’s pretty adept at rolling off pressure. A lot of it is not putting yourself in position. He’s pretty smart that way. He’s always been a player that is targeted by other teams, but he managed to get through it. I think he’ll be fine.’’

It was mostly up to Kane to protect himself Wednesday night, but there was no doubt his teammates were going to jump in at the slightest hint of aggression. Rubbing a glove into the face of an opponent is why Andrew Shaw was put on earth.

Kane figures to have more confidence for Game 2 on Friday night.

“They played really well defensively,’’ he said. “There are certain things I think I can do to get the puck more and generate more and maybe even win a few more battles too. You always think you can improve on your game. Hopefully that happens as the series goes on.’’

It takes an experienced team to not completely cave in after a miserable start. The Hawks have been through just about everything the past six years. It doesn’t mean they’ve lost the ability to be thrilled.

“Huge win,’’ Kane said. “Huge win.’’

No one could argue, not even the Predators.

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