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Toews continues to work through frustrating recovery

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews has been through a lot in a short amount of time as the 23-year year old captain of the Chicago Blackhawks.

He's won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy on the upside, but also felt the sting of coming up short of the ultimate goal several times. He's also been banged up physically before, which often comes with missed ice time -- something a guy nicknamed "Captain Serious" detests.

Jonathan Toews
Center - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 57
SOG: 185 | +/-: 17
However, what he's dealing with right now is unlike anything else in his career.

When the Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators Sunday night at the United Center (7:30 p.m.), Toews will miss his 16th straight game while continuing to deal with an upper body injury that's widely suspected to be concussion-related.

The uncertain nature of such an ailment, which doesn't heal like most injuries, is something that is really testing Toews' patience right now -- especially with only seven games left in the regular season and his team locked in a battle with Central Division foes Nashville and Detroit for playoff position.

It's probably the most frustrating thing I've been through," Toews told reporters in Chicago Saturday. "It's not like any other injury where you have a set timeline and you know when to get your hopes up and when you start healing up and getting ready to get back in the lineup. This is a type of injury that I kind of had those hopes and those feelings that I was going to be ready not even a week into the recovery process. Here I am past a month, still waiting to see when it's going to be better, to where I was three weeks ago."

The Blackhawks did not hold a morning skate Sunday, but Toews skated for the fifth straight day on Saturday and went through a full practice with his teammates. It wasn't the first time he'd done that during the recovery period, though.

Less than two weeks ago, Toews skated four straight days and went through a couple of practices after not doing any on-ice work for a couple of weeks to let the symptoms die down. Toews felt good enough during that first four-day segment of on-ice work that he made the mistake of saying he hoped to return for a game against the St. Louis Blues.

Shortly after he said it, the symptoms returned and his physical activity was shut down once again until this recent stretch.

"When you wake up every single day thinking that might be the day, you're going to break through and things are going to happen for you, and it just turns out that it isn't, it's tough to keep going that way," said Toews, who's 29 goals were just recently passed by Patrick Sharp's total for the team lead in that category. "But a lot of guys have been through this injury, It's different for everybody. There's days where it's not easy to be optimistic, but you just have to stick with it. The guys have been playing good, so you try not rush it too much."

In fact, he doesn't have to look much farther than his own locker room to find a number of teammates who've dealt with similar injuries. Currently, defenseman Steve Montador is believed to be going through it at the same time as Toews and rookie center Marcus Kruger left the last game against Vancouver early with an upper body injury thought to be concussion-related.

Kruger also missed a bulk of time earlier this season with what was thought to be a concussion-related issue, while Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson also missed extended time with a similar issue.

Then there's what happened to third-line center Dave Bolland last year around this same time of the season. Bolland caught an elbow to the head by Pavel Kubina and missed the last month of the season before eventually returning for Game 4 of a first-round playof series against Vancouver.

Toews, who's thought to have gone through a less severe concussion-related injury at least once before, now knows the frustration that Bolland has talked openly about since recovering.

"It's hard to explain," Toews said. "I don't really have a solid explanation for it. It just comes down to listening to how I feel. The symptoms came back. Obviously, what I was doing, I don't know if that's what set me back. We just decided to take a few more days off the ice and take precautions there. I'm feeling much better and much more confident that what I'm doing out on the ice is helping me get through it."

Still, the frustration continues with each day he experiences symptoms -- no matter how minute they might seem.

"Mostly, just when you wake up, you feel it," Toews said. "It's not like there's much there that's bothering me on daily things. But when I come to the rink and try to go out there and do what I do, it's all those things that just kind of set in. You just don't feel right. You don't feel like yourself. But I'm definitely getting better and closer to that today and the last few days."

The bright side for both he and the Hawks is that his team has seemingly found a formula for success without him in the lineup. Chicago has won five straight games -- including wins against likely playoff qualifiers Vancouver, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas -- and is 9-1-1 in its last 11 contests.

The Hawks are also 10-4-1 in the current stretch without their captain, which should add up to them being that much better whenever Toews does rejoin them to center the top line.

"It's kind of (stunk) that it's gone this long," Toews said. "But I feel like this is it mentally. I'm just telling myself we'll get through this. I'm not going to let those little setbacks that have already happened weigh me down. I'll find a way to get back 100 percent."
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