ST. LOUIS -- The brace around Patrick Kane's left knee is hidden by his red socks, but there's no hiding the fact the Chicago Blackhawks right wing has to learn to deal with the new, cumbersome piece of equipment if he's going to be as valuable in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he was last year, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Kane will wear the knee brace for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round on Thursday at Scottrade Center against the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, CSN-CH, FS-MW). It'll be his first game since injuring his knee March 19. He missed the final 12 regular-season games.
Kane anticipates having to wear the knee brace for the foreseeable future, but said it doesn't affect the way he skates or his range of motion. He said he's comfortable, doesn't feel limited, and isn't thinking about the brace when he's playing.
"I feel like the same player," said Kane, who had 29 goals and 69 points in 69 games. "Once you kind of get into skating with the puck or other game situations like we've done in some practices, it's the last thing on my mind. When you're out there playing and skating around, it's not like I'm thinking, 'How does my brace feel?' I'm thinking about making a play and making the right one. It's something I have to deal with, but I'm not really worried about it."
Kane has worn the brace as often as possible to get used to it. He has even slept with it on. He has asked other teammates who wear knee braces for advice on how to play with it.
"He's been wearing it around, in his sleep and everywhere, so he's kind of getting used to it," said forward Bryan Bickell, who wears braces on each of his knees. "That's the thing you want to do when you have a knee brace, get used to it and make it part of your own. It [stinks] the first time, but you get used to it."
Kane compared getting used to the knee brace to breaking in a new pair of skates or gloves, or adjusting to a new stick.
"Obviously you feel it a little bit when you first start using it, but as time goes on it's like anything with sticks, gloves, any kind of equipment; the more you use it, the more you get used to it," Kane said. "I'm not worried about it."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Kane shouldn't have any limitations Thursday.
"He's skated very well," Quenneville said. "The first couple of days he was on the ice he looked like he had some jump in his stride, and he's probably been on about 10 days and practiced well with us the last few days. He seems that he's comfortable. We're happy with the way that he's progressed."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is returning to the lineup after missing the last six regular-season games with an upper-body injury. Toews likely could have played last week if the games mattered for playoff positioning, but now he's happy that he didn't because of how refreshed he feels.
"I never want to miss games, I don't think anyone does, but in a way it's helped me prepare for this series, to be ready to play the best hockey I've played all year," Toews said. "I feel I'm definitely ready to do that."
Here is the Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Brandon Saad
Patrick Sharp - Michal Handzus - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Kane
Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival
Scratched: Joakim Nordstrom, Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Sheldon Brookbank, Mac Carruth