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Kane to return in Game 1 vs. Predators

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane made it official after practice Tuesday that he will play against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, CSN-CH, FS-TN).

Kane will play seven weeks after surgery Feb. 25 to repair his fractured left collarbone. He'll be in his familiar spot at right wing on the second line and take a spot on the Blackhawks' top power-play unit.

"Yeah, that's the plan," Kane said of playing Game 1. "It's exciting. It's been a long 50 days here so it's a credit to a lot of hard work from, obviously, the doctors and the trainers and just listening to them and trying to heal as fast as possible."

It was a speedy recovery.

Following surgery Blackhawks physician Dr. Michael Terry said it would take up to 12 weeks for the bone to heal enough for Kane to play. Late Monday afternoon Terry released another statement saying he had met with Kane and cleared him for to return five weeks ahead of schedule.

Just that quickly the Blackhawks' outlook for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs improved quite a bit. Kane, who was tied for the NHL scoring lead when he was injured Feb. 24, missed the final 21 games of the regular season but finished second on the Blackhawks with 27 goals and 64 points.

Had the initial diagnosis stuck Kane would have been out until about the time of the Western Conference Final, meaning the Blackhawks would have needed to win two playoff series without Kane. Barring another injury, the Blackhawks' best offensive player might not miss a single game of the postseason.

"I didn't really know what to expect to be honest with you," Kane said. "The whole time I was just taking it day-by-day. When I started feeling good, that's when I knew there was a chance I'd be back a little sooner."

Kane met after practice Monday with Terry and members of the front office. They examined a recent X-ray of the bone and discussed the situation, and a consensus was reached that it was safe enough for Kane to play.

"I think we did a lot of good things, not just [calcium supplements], but a lot of things to try and strengthen the shoulder, improve the bone and everything," Kane said. "It definitely makes it worth it."

Kane still hasn't taken a big hit in practice the past two days because the Blackhawks don't do much hitting in their workouts. His first big test will happen at some point Wednesday when the Predators will be looking to finish their checks whenever Kane is on the ice.

Kane said he does feel a little anxiety but drew more confidence recently by watching Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker return last week from a similar surgery to repair his broken right clavicle after eight weeks. Former Blackhawks teammate Brian Campbell also returned from a similar injury a few years ago in even less time.

"By no means is it anything that we rushed back," Kane said. "It's an injury that can be healed and some people are a little bit different than others. It's just kind of my timetable, when I was ready to play."

It didn't always look like this would be possible. The Blackhawks rigidly stuck to the initial 12-week timeframe all the way until the past week, even as Kane showed signs of rapid progress in what he could do in recent practices.

"It wasn't in the cards, knowing that we had to get through a round or two before he could even be considered, so this is a very positive situation for us in what he brings to the table," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He was having an MVP-type of season, and getting him back just makes you have so many more options and [his] versatility in all areas certainly enhances our team."

Kane did his best to downplay the impact of his return, but there's no question it provides an unexpected boost for his teammates. Like everyone else who monitored Kane's recovery, Blackhawks players braced for the worst-case scenario of three months without him.

Now he's back less than two months later, and the Blackhawks are feeling recharged with the playoffs about to start.

"Great situation for our team," captain Jonathan Toews said. "We're confident as a group. We made it this far [and] played a number of games without our best player and our top scorer. To get him back, I think, is only going to help us. I'm really looking forward to getting it started."

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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