Patrick Kane relocates timing just in time

CHICAGO -- Having nearly a month off from game action did Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane's body good heading into the playoffs.

From an actual hockey standpoint, though, it wasn't ideal. Kane thrives on his timing. Before he's able to dissect defenses with his stick-handling, find open patches of ice to maneuver in, set teammates up with pinpoint passes or deliver himself with sharpshooting goals, Kane has to feel that opportunity and react.

His feel and reaction time were thrown off when he sat out the final 12 regular-season games of the season because of a lower-body injury. He had never missed so many consecutive games since he arrived to the NHL in 2007, and it showed when he made his return for the start of the Blackhawks' first-round series against the St. Louis Blues.

Kane began slowly piecing together his timing over the series' first two games. Game 3 was another step for him. He made the final leap and resembled his usual self in Game 4 on Wednesday. He set up one goal in the second period, scored one later in the period, was close to creating a few others and finally capped his night off with the winning goal in overtime to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win and send the series back to St. Louis tied 2-2.

"I felt like every game I've gotten a little bit better," Kane said. "Whether that's time or getting used to playing back in the playoffs or whatever it be, you just try to get better and better every game, use these games to your advantage, too, to get back into the swing of things."

Kane voiced some concern about his timing leading into the playoffs, but he wasn't sure exactly where his game would be when the series began. Looking back now, he was further behind than he probably expected to be.

"I was out a month," Kane said. "I know you can get all the rest you need, but you're not going to come back and have that game pace and the timing you had when you left before. It takes a little while.

"There's guys in here who can come back and play amazing right away when their injured, like [Marian Hossa]. And it seems [Jonathan Toews] hasn't missed a beat either. It's something I've never really dealt with too much in my career. It's something you got to get used to and get better at. I try my best."

Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell witnessed Kane's ability powering up as Wednesday's game progressed. The shot opportunities were mounting. His passes were getting a bit fancier -- he had a between-the-leg pass to Ben Smith for a scoring chance in overtime. He was making his game easier and his opponents' more difficult. Two minutes before his game winner, he just missed on another goal.

"I saw his hands were there, his vision was there," Bickell said. "A couple shifts right before [the game winner], he hit the crossbar. You just felt him going down on [that final rush] that something good was going to happen. He has the talent to do it. It couldn't happen to be a better person."

On his game winner, Kane at first had only one Blues defenseman ahead of him, but he patiently waited for his teammates to get into the play. Blackhawks forwards Brandon Saad and Smith were both speeding down the ice with Blues players just behind them. As the two Blackhawks and two Blues got to net, Kane slowly skated toward the net in the left circle, positioned his body for a shot and finally placed the puck past Blues goaltender Ryan Miller into the left corner of the net.

From the other end of the ice, Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford saw the entire play develop.

"It seemed like he wasn't going to be denied," Crawford said. "That was a great play again to stick-handle it, hold on to it, patience and find his lane and just bury. You don't think you're going to see any better from him, and he keeps doing it again."

And with at least two games remaining in the series, Kane is finding his stride and his feel at just the right time.

"I think I just try to play off your instincts and kind of have the feeling you're going to make things happen instead of wait around," Kane said. "That seems like when I'm at my best. I'll try to continue that and keep that going."