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Finally healthy, Jonathan Toews rejoins Blackhawks

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — By the time the Blackhawks boarded their flight to Raleigh last Monday for their final game before the All-Star break, a non-conference tilt with the Carolina Hurricanes, Jonathan Toews already had been dealing with body aches and sleepless nights for about a week. It had then devolved into a nasty cough, and Toews was basically quarantined from his teammates on the plane, just to be safe.

During the game, a miserable 5-0 loss, Toews could be seen hacking and wheezing on the bench, and admitted he was having trouble breathing during shifts. He sat out the entire third period.

He clearly had no business playing in that game. The Hawks had no business letting him play in that game. Yet there he was, playing in that game. Because, hey, that’s hockey.

“I guess there are just some moments where you have to be stubborn a little bit,” Toews shrugged. “You try and play through some things, and obviously in that case, with what I was dealing with, you just hope it’s going to go away.”

It didn’t, so Toews pulled out of the All-Star game, earning himself a one-game suspension. Joel Quenneville admitted afterward that he wasn’t entirely clear on the rules, but if Toews had sat out against Carolina (when he was sick), he wouldn’t have been suspended against Colorado (when he was mostly better). In retrospect, it was a careless mistake by the Hawks. But the Hawks pulled out a 2-1 victory over the Avalanche on Tuesday with a stellar defensive effort and a big third period by Corey Crawford, and Toews happily rejoined the team Wednesday in Arizona.

So no harm, no foul.

“It’s nice to see that the guys played well, and hopefully I can jump back in and be a part of that, and continue winning [during] the next little bit here,” Toews said.

In fact, the one-game suspension — a rule implemented by the NHL to ensure the All-Star game doesn’t get watered down by countless withdrawals like the NFL’s Pro Bowl — might end up being the best thing for Toews, who admitted he was “out of gas” at the tail end of the Hawks’ brutal January slate. Toews wound up with a full eight days between games to get over his illness and get his legs back underneath him.

And he looked like his old self at Wednesday’s practice in Scottsdale, zipping around the rink and putting a few pucks past both Crawford and Scott Darling.

“I think it’s beneficial for us as a team, considering the two months of very busy hockey we had in December and January,” Toews said. “But for myself especially, [with] what I was dealing with the last week and a half, two weeks.”

The Hawks will need Toews at his best, as 10 of their 11 opponents this month are in the playoff picture, starting Thursday with the upstart Coyotes and then Saturday in a big showdown at the second-place Dallas Stars. So while playing at Carolina was an unwise decision by Toews and the team, pulling out of the All-Star game clearly was the right call, one-game suspension and all.

“You want to be there, you want to represent your team and your teammates, and be there for the Hawks fans that are behind you,” Toews said. “It’s always an honor and a special thing to be a part of something like that. But it just got to the point where things were not getting better. I was regressing more and more, and in the bigger picture, it was the right thing to do to make sure I was ready to play and be healthy coming out of the break.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus