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Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane moves closer to return as playoffs near

As the Blackhawks morning skate wound down on Tuesday, Patrick Kane reared back — his stick past perpendicular above his head, almost like a golf swing — and fired a one-timer into an empty net.

Clearly, he’s coming back sooner than later.

Kane was taking slap shots and one-timers on Tuesday, the next step in his recovery from a broken clavicle suffered on Feb. 24. His original timetable had him out 12 weeks, and it’s only been six. But Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hasn’t ruled out anything, including a return at some point during the first round of the playoffs, which begin next Wednesday.

“He’s progressing real well,” Quenneville said. “Every day, it seems like he’s getting a little stronger. His skating’s always been fine. He’s handling the puck extremely well. It’s good signs every day, seeing the progress.”

For comparison’s sake, Minnesota’s Jason Zucker suffered a broken clavicle on Feb. 9, and made his return Tuesday against the Hawks — more than four weeks ahead of his 12-week forecast.

Kane has been skating for two weeks now, and practicing with the team for a week. He was not made available to reporters on Tuesday.

“Kaner looks great,” Andrew Shaw said after Tuesday’s skate. “Doesn’t even look like he missed a step. His hands are there, his shot’s still there. He’s unbelievable to watch.”

Kane still hasn’t been cleared for contact, which will be the final hurdle. The Hawks likely won’t hold another practice until Monday.

“Whether we’re together on the ice with him with contact or not, there are ways he can get contact without the team being on the ice,” Quenneville said. “Ways of getting him ready without everyone being around.”

And who’d be hitting him?

“I think there will be a lot of volunteers,” Quenneville said with a smirk.

But while there was good news on the Kane front, Quenneville revealed that Brad Richards will miss the last three games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Quenneville said he expects Richards to be ready for practice on Monday, so the Hawks likely are just shutting him down as a precaution, with a playoff spot already locked up.

Welcome, rookie
It was a “surreal” moment for rookie forward Kyle Baun when he learned he would be making his NHL debut Tuesday. The 22-year-old Baun, who signed with the Hawks on March 26 after his junior year at Colgate, last played against Harvard in the ECAC conference tournament on March 21 in Lake Placid, N.Y.  

“Definitely nervous — [but] if I think about it too much I start freaking out,” Baun said. “So I just try to stay relaxed and not think about it too much. At the end of the day it’s just another hockey game, which is what I’ve been doing the last good chunk of my life.” 

The 6-2, 204-pound Baun said he’s got a lot to learn but was ready for the moment. “I don’t think I’d be here if I wasn’t ready,” he said. “There’s a big learning curve with making a jump to a different level, so it’s hard to say until I’m actually out there. But I feel really comfortable in practice with the guys. Obviously a game is a lot different than practice. We’ll see.” 

Contributing: Mark Potash

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus