CHICAGO -- Good news keeps coming by the day for injured Chicago Blackhawks captain and top center Jonathan Toews. He'll miss his 18th straight game Thursday, when the Hawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, but Toews hinted that his return from an upper-body injury could be right around the corner.
"(I'm) getting very, very close," said Toews, who has skated for 10 straight days, including Thursday's morning workout. "I think getting to this point and not playing is probably the toughest thing to do, but at the same time it's smart. I definitely need a few more days to kind of see how it goes through this weekend and we'll see where we're at next week, basically. Right now, I'm feeling great. I've just got to get those legs going and try to get myself back to being as close to game shape as I can."
Toews said he expects to get clearance for contact either Thursday or Friday, which is one of the last steps he'll have to clear in order to return to game action.
"He's getting real close (for contact)," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think in the next day or so, so hopefully he gets out there and gets a little bit more (on-ice work), but he had a lot over the last few days and we like the progress."
Toews does, too.
The last time he tried to return from his current injury, he skated hard for four straight days and then had a return of the symptoms that have kept him out. This time, he's gone six consecutive days longer and apparently feels more like himself following each skating session.
"Last time I was on the ice, I was feeling like I was close to being able to play and I (had) more of a setback than anything, so this time around I feel like there's nothing I can do really that's going to make that happen," Toews said. "I've been pushing myself harder and harder every day and I feel good. I feel confident. Any day now I should be ready to go."
The Hawks are likely to take the conservative approach, however, which means Toews' most likely will return in one of two games next week -- at Minnesota or at Detroit in the regular-season finale.
"It (stinks) when you see the season wind down," Toews said. "Of course everyone's excited to get into the playoffs, but I haven't played in what feels like forever, so it doesn't matter to me. As soon as I'm able to be on the ice, I'll be out there."
What, exactly, will be the key thing that will earn him the green light?
"When he's ready to go," Quenneville said. "He's got to be comfortable as a player, and organizationally there's some hurdles you've got to pass."
Chicago is 10-5-2 in the 17 games Toews has been out, but that success doesn't surprised the Hawks' 23-year old captain.
"We have a good leadership group and we don't always just rely on one guy," said Toews. "In these games that I've missed, the guys have realized they want to keep winning and they want to hang in there and play playoff hockey and be competitive once you do get there. So they've kind of committed themselves to doing those little things right and playing the right way. It's been fun to see that."