NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane had been knocked around since returning from his fractured clavicle, but he hadn’t exactly been punished the way Nashville Predators’ Mike Ribeiro hit him Thursday.
Late in the second period of Game 5 on Thursday, Kane had just knocked the puck out of the Blackhawks’ defensive zone as Ribeiro approached him. Ribeiro slammed his right shoulder into Kane’s left shoulder and Kane sent flying in the air and to the ice. As Blackhawks’ fans held their breaths, Kane picked himself up and skated away unharmed.
Asked about it afterwards, Kane dismissed the idea that he and his left clavicle had survived some sort of significant test.
“I was just trying to take a hit to get the puck out of the zone, kind of left myself in a vulnerable situation,” Kane said. “I knew that was coming. I knew it was going to happen. I kind of had to take it to get the puck out there.”
Five games into his return, Kane has had mixed feeling about his play. He’s felt like old self in spurts, but they haven’t stayed with him as consistently as he would like.
“At times, [I feel like my timing is there],” Kane said after Game 5. “Some plays that could still be had out there. Try to improve on those, still try to generate more chances out there and make sure you’re looking for the puck every shift.
“I’m still trying to figure out different things and do things better. That’s kind of any given game. I think all of us could have been better [in Game 5], especially myself in certain situations definitely. I’ll try to learn from it and pick it up next game.”
Some would say Kane is being hard on himself. He had two primary assists in Game 1. He scored a goal in Game 2. He set up Brent Seabrook’s triple-overtime game-winner in Game 4. Kane’s spin and dish to Kris Versteeg for a goal was gaped at in Game 5. He's tied for a team-high five points in the series.
It has also been just eight weeks since Kane's surgery to repair his clavicle. He wasn’t expected to return for 12 weeks.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews gave him a positive review.
“I think he’s done some real good things in the first handful of games,” Toews said prior to Game 5. “And considering the injury that he had, you can understand most guys wouldn’t feel themselves right away. You know him, he’s always going to find ways to produce and create offensively. That’s the good news. He’s found ways to get on the board and to be a part of big goals for our team. And you know that there’s still a lot of room for him to get even better.
“I think everyone expects him to be where he was at the end of that last series against L.A. last year, which for most guys is pretty tough to do, but he’ll find a way to get back there.”
Blackhawks forward Brad Richards has played with Kane more than anyone this season. He noticed Kane when he first came back was somewhat reluctant to be as aggressive as he was prior to his injury and has gradually improved in that.
“The first game is probably the easiest and then you’ve got to, you kind of go up and down after that because you settle back into the flow of things,” Richards said. “Obviously anybody would be a little apprehensive coming off that shoulder [injury] like that getting hit, getting into traffic. You can see now he’s starting to do that a lot more. He’s a lot more dangerous when he starts doing that because he draws 2-3 guys at him and opens up the rest of the ice. You can see it slowly getting better and better every game.”
The Predators have been open about trying to make Kane’s return as difficult as possible.
“Obviously we know he’s coming off injury,” said Predators forward Viktor Stalberg, a former Blackhawk. “There’s no hiding that fact. You try to be physical on him. Even if he wasn’t, you got to be a physical on a guy like that. Try to make him not to watch to play too much out there and try to keep the pucks away from him. Being physical on him is one way to do it.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was especially watchful of Kane early on, and Quenneville became convinced Kane could handle his usual large role. Kane has led the team’s forwards in even-strength ice time and second in power-play ice time during the series. He has a 49.7 Corsi percentage in 5-on-5 play in the five games.
“Going in, I thought he’d be fine,” Quenneville said prior to Game 5. “His play would dictate to us how you would play him and use him and basically how he’s feeling would dictate his ice time going forward. But from the first game, I thought he got through it relatively in good shape. I think it was a feeling-out process for himself knowing what he was able to do. But conditioning-wise, performance-wise, he’s been real good. So, I’ve been very happy with him.”