CHICAGO – It was another day of progress for Jonathan Toews on Saturday afternoon at the Chicago Blackhawks' practice facility just down West Madison Street from United Center.
The Hawks captain and top center was on the ice for a third straight day and second straight practice while recovering from a concussion that's kept him out for nine straight games.
That stretch will extend to 10 games missed Sunday night, when the Hawks play host to the Los Angeles Kings at the Madhouse on Madison without their captain, but Toews is hopeful that he might be ready to go as soon as next Tuesday – when Chicago welcomes the St. Louis Blues.
"I always think that the next game is going to be the time, so I'd love to be in on Tuesday," Toews said. "But again, I've just got to focus on this afternoon, get a good rest tonight and worry about those little things right now ... the way I have been, just take it one step at a time and hopefully it's going to be sooner than later."
Toews has yet to be cleared for contact, however, so is Tuesday even a realistic goal?
"I think so," said Toews, who also had some fun skating around with two pee wee teams following Saturday's practice. "I keep telling myself that. You can shoot for a date like that, even if it's early. Obviously if you feel like you're improving and making strides, you notice a difference. This past week I was hoping for Sunday and now I'm realizing it's not going to happen. So, we'll shoot for [Tuesday] but again I'm going to tell [reporters] the same thing every day. We'll take it day by day and see what happens."
First he needs to get clearance from the team doctor for contact in practice.
"That's the real way of knowing I think," Toews said. "It's when you turn around the corner with a guy on you or you spin around and somebody hits you or just those things that kind of move you really fast. When you're doing full drills skating around the ice, you get your heart rate up eventually and you can kind of master that where the symptoms go away. But [contact] will be the real test, so we'll see when the time is for that."
As Toews alluded to, conditioning will be another factor. He has to get his heart rate up to game level and then not experience post-workout symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, feeling nauseous or lethargic.
So far, so good for Toews after three skates.
"People talk about setbacks and the last three days I don't feel like I've really had any, so that's a good thing," he said. "It's just the lungs that hurt a little bit."
That's not a surprise to any player who's gone through an extended absence from an injury mid-season. The good news for Toews is that he's renowned for his unrelenting physical conditioning efforts, which probably means less time needed to regain whatever he's lost by mostly just resting during the down period.
"They say you can lose it pretty quick, but a couple of skates like this it comes back just as fast, too," Toews said. "You've just got to be strong, push yourself through it and know that whenever that first game is going to be, it's not going to be easy, either."
Regardless, just having Toews continue to make progress is welcome news to the Blackhawks – who are treading water with a 5-4-0 mark in the nine games he's missed.
"He said he felt good and he felt good yesterday after the skate and then is progressing again today, so that's good," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He'll tell us. You get the feel of your body throughout the day and progressing in the days afterwards, you get a little more accustomed to ... going into games and practices. They tell you when they're ready and hopefully it's soon."
Toews, however, will not rush his return. It's the second concussion the 23-year old star's brief NHL career and he's already taken in what happened to Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby -- who's missed the bulk of the past two seasons with concussion-related symptoms after taking two hits to the head in short amount of time last year.
Toews and Crosby share the same agent and have been in contact via text messages, but the Blackhawks center said there wasn't a lot of advice on how to deal with this injury dispensed.
"He's a good guy to look at to kind of remind yourself that it's not a good thing to rush," Toews said of Crosby. "He's the best there is in this game and I'm sure he wants to get back in there with his team as much as anybody. There's all sorts of pressure from all over for a guy like that to come back and maybe play through something like this. He's being smart about it and that's what you've got to do. That's one of those lessons you can learn that it's a pretty serious injury and he's gone about it the right way so far."