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Blackhawks' Kane cleared to return for Game 1

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane has been cleared to play in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks announced.

Kane, who sustained a fractured left collarbone Feb. 24 against the Florida Panthers, was a full participant in practice Monday. It was the first time since his surgery Feb. 25 that he practiced without wearing a white, non-contact jersey.

“Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty," Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in a statement. "After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick today, we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”

Kane didn't take any full hits in practice Monday. He seemed unsure afterward whether he would be able to join the rest of the Blackhawks for their first game of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, CSN-CH, FS-TN).

"I'm not really sure," Kane said. "We're not at that point yet. That's something that has to be discussed with a lot of different people internally, and ultimately at the end I have to feel like I can play and feel good out there. I have to feel safe too. That's probably one of the most important things right now."

Prior to the injury, Kane led the Blackhawks with 27 goals and 37 assists. His 64 points were tied for the NHL lead through 61 games, and he still finished second on the Blackhawks, two points back of captain Jonathan Toews.

Kane skated at right wing on the second line Monday, his usual spot, and worked with the top power-play unit. Coach Joel Quenneville reunited his most effective combination of forwards for that line by putting Kris Versteeg at left wing and Brad Richards at center. Richards missed the final three games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury, but said he feels fine.

Kane certainly caught Quenneville's attention again in a spirited practice.

"We'll see how he does again [Tuesday]," Quenneville said. "I thought he had real good progress today, he got cleared for contact and handled everything pretty well. I thought that line looked good, as well."

Asked if Kane could suit up Wednesday in Nashville, Quenneville gave the most optimistic response yet.

"Yeah, he could," Quenneville said.

Kane's original recovery time was said to be 12 weeks, which would've meant a return sometime early in the Western Conference Final. If he plays Wednesday, it would be seven weeks after surgery.

Kane skated in Chicago on Sunday with Richards and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, but didn't take any real hits.

"It was more like pushing and shoving," Kane said. "Today I came [to practice] and said I could put away the white jersey."

He said there are apprehensions about the first real hit he takes in a game, but the only way to really test it is by playing.

"I really haven't had guys hit me too hard, but I've tried to simulate different things like taking checks on both sides of the body … nothing like a hard hit or anything like that," Kane said. "I think like anything you try to be cautious with it at first. I've talked with different guys who have had the injury and they say when you're cleared, you're cleared. You just have to have some faith and trust in the healing process."

Last week, Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker returned from a very similar injury in a game against the Blackhawks at United Center. His return came eight weeks after surgery.

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