CHICAGO -- They were only three words, but seemed to hold more importance when spoken Monday by Jonathan Toews, the captain of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
How does he feel, physically, after sitting out the final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury?
"Good," Toews said, pausing. "Really good."
Toews and forward Patrick Kane, who missed the final 12 games with a lower-body injury, said they're ready to take the next step in the process of getting back into game shape. They'll participate in full practices Tuesday and Wednesday, and get a morning skate Thursday at Scottrade Center prior to the start of a series against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Toews, who returned to the ice for individual work this past Thursday, is anxious to get back into normal game-preparation mode.
"[Tuesday] I'll be out there with the boys, back to the usual routine," he said. "It's kind of nice. Not fun to be on your own program for a couple of weeks. It's one of the downsides. I'm looking forward to being back."
Likewise for Kane, who's been skating through individual drills for more than a week and got into a morning skate prior to the Blackhawks' home finale April 9 against the Montreal Canadiens.
"I'm excited to get things going," Kane said. "I've watched a lot of hockey lately, so it's going to be nice to play in some games now. I feel pretty good. It'll be nice to get a couple skates with the team [Tuesday and Wednesday] and the pre-game skate Thursday and get ready to go."
As for his injury, which is thought to be a knee issue after he returned to the ice wearing a brace on it, Kane said it feels ready for game tempo.
"I've had some time to rest my injury, obviously, the right amount of time, and with anything you want to make sure you're feeling good coming back," he said. "I think that's where I'm at right now."
Toews said he feels fortunate that his injury wasn't worse after sustaining a big hit into the boards by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
"There was a moment there right after it happened in Pittsburgh where we weren't quite sure," he said. "I think for the most part, with the level of pain I was dealing with, I knew it wasn't going to be a long-term thing. I don't think there was too much to worry about there. It was just going to be a week or two weeks."
Each said they would've liked to play at least a game prior to the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the time off provided a needed physical and mental break after playing a lot of hockey in the previous 15 months.
After winning the 2013 Stanley Cup following a 48-game regular season, the Blackhawks only had a couple months off before training camp started in September for a full 82-game schedule. Mixed in were the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which Toews and Kane each participated in for their respective countries.
"I don't think you ever want to miss any games, but if you do, on the one side you can try and rest up and be as mentally ready for the playoffs as you can," Toews said. "At the same time, I don't feel like I lost anything. It was only a short while to be away from playing the games. I think for anyone who's been playing right until the end of the season, it's going to be an adjustment with the speed of the playoffs, so everyone's going to have to step it up a little bit."