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Blackhawks' Kane back playing at pre-injury level

by Corey Masisak

MINNEAPOLIS -- Patrick Kane's rapid recovery and return to superstar-level production after a fractured clavicle threatened to ruin his and the Chicago Blackhawks' season has been pretty remarkable.

That Kane insists he probably isn't operating at full capacity and can get better makes it even more remarkable.

Kane has scored four goals in the Blackhawks' Western Conference Second Round series against the Minnesota Wild, or as many as the Wild have in the three games, all Chicago victories.

The Wild will try to avoid being swept Thursday in Game 4 at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

"Sometimes you're not really playing as well as you think but the puck is going in the net," Kane said Tuesday. "It looks a lot better on the score sheet. I've had some good looks in this series where guys have gotten me good opportunities to some clear shots on net and I've been fortunate enough to see them go in.

"I think there is a lot of things [I] can do better, whether it is defensively or making strong plays with the puck or getting the puck more to create a little more. It is a tough series and you have to be patient in this series. You have to think about that too."

Kane enters play Wednesday tied for second in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with six goals and third with 11 points. He has scored at least one goal in four straight games, and has outscored the Wild 3-1 in the past two.

There is something to his assertion that Kane and his linemates aren't dominating despite his production. Kane, Brad Richards and Bryan Bickell are the three forwards who have played more than two games for the Blackhawks this postseason who have a shot-attempts percentage (SAT%) of less than 50 percent.

In the past two games, the Blackhawks have had 18 shot attempts when Kane is on the ice at even strength; the Wild have had 37.

"I think we've done a good job. In all honesty we denied him the puck a lot, I thought," Wild forward Zach Parise said Wednesday. "But he's the type of guy who gets that one look and it's in. He's a great player. But I think all in all we did a pretty good job against him and didn't give him a lot of touches through the neutral zone, which is his strength and why he's so dangerous. But he gets that one good look and it's in. And I guess that's all they needed."

Kane's moments of individual brilliance have helped swing this series. In Game 2, the Blackhawks led 1-0 but the Wild were dictating play until Kane's goal late in the second period.

He was backchecking and trying to lift the stick of Wild defenseman Ryan Suter near the Minnesota blue line when seconds later he saw the puck drifting toward teammate Duncan Keith two zones away. Kane moved into position to receive a world-class pass that surprised Suter and allowed Kane to skate in alone.

In Game 3, the Blackhawks were on the power play but the Wild appeared to have things under control in the neutral zone until Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw got the puck to Kane and he darted toward the net.

"[Kane] is a special guy," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "He doesn't need much to be effective out there. He gets a little glimpse of sunlight and he's able to find a way to make something happen, whether it's a pass or finding somebody backdoor or putting it in the net. He's just one of those players that's able to do that."

When Kane left the ice Feb. 24 because of the injury sustained against the Florida Panthers, this wasn't even supposed to be possible. The initial diagnosis was a 12-week absence.

He ended up missing about seven weeks, and had two points in Game 1 of Chicago's Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators.

"It's impressive the way he's playing," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "He did it last year also (Kane sustained a lower-body injury March 19). I don't think he missed as much time, but his first game was Game 1 [of the first round] against [the St. Louis Blues]; I think he scored in the first period."

Because it was a collarbone injury, Kane was back on the ice shortly after having surgery and was able to keep himself in game shape. Sharp said Kane probably was ready to play a game or two before the end of the regular season, but the Blackhawks had clinched a playoff berth and could afford to be cautious.

Sometimes when a player comes back earlier than expected from an injury there is an initial burst followed by a lull. That hasn't been the case for Kane.

"He's not showing too many signs of still being hurt or still feeling it," Parise said. "People have been physical on him and it doesn't look like its hurting or bothering him at all."

When Kane was injured, he was in position to challenge for the scoring title for the first time in his career, and possibly the Hart Trophy. He has won the Conn Smythe Trophy; he and Keith probably are the top two candidates from the Blackhawks at this point in the postseason.

Maybe it's because Kane plays on a team with center Jonathan Toews and the other elite players, but his place in the hierarchy of NHL superstars can be tough to judge. He has 102 points in 102 Stanley Cup Playoff games, and there is no questioning he's one of the most talented players in the sport.

Apparently missing seven weeks with a fractured clavicle wasn't enough to subdue his skills either.

"Prior to his injury he was as good as any player in the League this year, having an MVP-type season," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "How often do you have a player like that? [It's] pretty impressive. He showed his consistency was there this year. He had speed, he had the puck. Whatever line he played with he made them better.

"It was a huge loss at the time. Fortunate to get him back come playoff time. I don't see much of a difference between his regular season and playoffs."


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