ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s the understatement of the playoffs, if not the Blackhawks entire season:
“It seems like the surgery went really well,” Patrick Kane said Tuesday night after his first-period goal made the difference in a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild that gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead in their second-round series.
With every game Kane plays, we’re getting an idea of just how successful the surgery to repair his broken collarbone was. And it appears the rehabilitation was an even better. In fact, Kane appears as lethal as ever since returning after missing seven weeks following his surgery. He had one goal in the nine games prior to suffering the injury against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 24 at the United Center. He now has six in nine playoff games after beating Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with a wrist shot on a power-play rush in the first period for the only goal of the game.
Whether it’s a credit to medical science, the Hawks training staff or the team smartly keeping expectations low with a 12-week prognosis for his return, the Hawks are in better shape than they ever could have expected when Kane suffered the injury.
Kane scored off a feed from Andrew Shaw at 14:06 of the first period to give him at least one goal in his last four games. He scored a goal to give the Hawks an all-important 2-0 lead in Games 1 and 2. On Tuesday night — when he was supposed to be two weeks from even beginning his comeback — he scored the game-winner on his only shot-on-goal of the night.
“Sometimes you’re not playing as well as you think, but the pucks go in the net and it looks a lot better on the scoresheet,” said Kane, who has scored 102 points in 102 career playoff games, including 43 goals. “I’ve had some good looks, where guys have given me good opportunities to get some clear shots and I’m fortunate enough to see the puck go [in].”
As much as he loves the spotlight and enjoys living up to his reputation as a clutch performer, Kane preferred not to dwell on how hot he is. “We’re at a point where we’re in a good position — [up] 3-0,” he said. “It’s time to get ready for the next one and wipe the slate clean and not think about what’s happened here … but be ready for the next game.”
Kane’s goal came off a rush on the power-play, with Patrick Sharp on the right side misfiring on a pass, but still getting the puck to Andrew Shaw in the slot. Shaw quickly passed to Kane, who did the rest to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead with 5:54 left in the first period.
“The puck was bouncing,” Kane said. “I think Sharpie was trying to come over to me. It got to Shawzie and I think he said he heard me calling for it, so he just kind of threw it over and I got it and tried to shoot it quickly.”
All Kane seemingly needs to do is just shoot it. He has scored four goals against the Wild on 15 shot attempts, nine shots on goal.
“He’s got a hot stick. He’s dangerous,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think he gives a lot of different looks for the goalies — they don’t know where it’s coming off his stick and he’s got some torque on it as well.
“He’s skating well and he can back off the D, shoot through screens and if he does get alone on goalies, you don’t know where it’s coming off.”
Though Kane’s recovery and production since coming back has been remarkable, he said he still is getting his timing down. But he’s all he has to be right now — red hot.
“I was trying to come back as soon as possible — whether it was practices or games,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a little while [to get the timing back]. I still don’t know if I have it completely back yet. But it’s one of those things, when you’re scoring goals, sometimes things look a little bit better than they actually are.”
By the original timetable, Kane would not be back until May 20 — no telling where the Hawks would have been by then without Kane.
“I give [the medical staff and trainers] all the credit,” Kane said. “Obviously it’s nice to be playing hockey with your teammates instead of sitting out watching. That was tough. I’m just happy to be here, happy to be a part of the team right now and playing games.”