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And to think Patrick Kane was still supposed to be sidelined

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Just think, Patrick Kane wasn't even supposed to be back playing yet for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The timetable for recovery placed him to return to game action about 12 weeks after he fractured his left clavicle in a game against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 24, and had surgery the following day. If Kane’s body followed that schedule, he would not have returned to the Blackhawks until May 20, meaning the Blackhawks would have to get all the way to the Western Conference finals without him.

Instead, the Blackhawks are on course to reach the Western Conference finals because of him. Kane came back five weeks earlier than expected, and his presence has been felt by the Blackhawks and their opponents ever since.

The Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild certainly would have preferred if Kane had stuck to his original timetable. The Blackhawks eliminated the Predators in six games, and they have a 3-0 series advantage on the Wild -- Game 4 in the series is Thursday night at 9:30 ET -- largely due to Kane. He leads the Blackhawks with six goals and 11 points in the playoffs. He’s produced a point in 8 of 9 playoff games and is currently riding a six-game points streak.

What Kane is doing is no different than past playoff seasons -- he’s generated 102 points in 102 career playoff games -- and for an athlete to return somewhere between six and 12 weeks is normal following clavicle fractures, but it’s the context of coming off the most severe injury of his career, missing the final 21 regular-season games and then picking up where he left off that makes what Kane has done notable.

“I think prior to his injury, he was as good as any player in the league was this year,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Wednesday. “He was having that MVP-type season. How often do those come around or how often do you have player like that? It’s pretty impressive. I think that showed his consistency was there this year.

“He had speed. He had the puck. He was a threat. Whatever line or whoever was playing with him, he made them better. And, obviously, [his injury] was a huge loss at that time. We were fortunate to get him back come playoff time. I don’t see too much difference between his playoff and his regular season.”

Kane was able to rediscover his timing so quickly mainly because he had been on the ice long before he was cleared for contact or to play in a game. He was skating within weeks of his surgery.

ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell, a licensed physical therapist, thought Kane benefited a number of ways from having been so active throughout his rehab.

“It helps their overall preparedness when they come back to competition,” Bell said. “He was cleared for contact just a couple days before he played in his first game, and he already had been on the ice for a while. You see some players fearful after an injury like that. ‘What happens if I get hit?’ ... Also, for neuromuscular coordination, it helps getting back on the ice and makes it easier than if he hadn’t been doing that. The ability to get out there to do that helps. There’s no doubt about it.”

Being on the ice also cheered Kane up. He admitted the first few days after his injury that his spirits had been crushed. The help of his mom, girlfriend and some TV box sets helped him out of that at first. Then, it was being able to do what he loves even if he wasn’t able to do it completely right away. As Quenneville said Wednesday, “He loves to be out there.”

“I was just happy to get back on the ice and skate around,” Kane said. “I knew it was an upper-body injury, so I was in a position that I could actually come back and skate, so I think that actually helped. Other than that, I was just trying to take it day by day and not worry about the long-term process.”

Kane’s agent, Pat Brisson, was in contact with Kane throughout his rehab process. Brisson was hopeful for a quick recovery, but even he didn’t think Kane would be back until about now. But as Kane progressed throughout March, there became a real chance for him to be back playing sooner than later.

When the Blackhawks opened the playoffs against the Predators on April 15, Kane was suited up and ready to play.

“I didn’t think he was going to be ready until at least the first week of May, however he kept saying that he felt better and better," Brisson said. "He surprised all of us. He took his rehab very seriously, and [Blackhawks head team physician] Dr. Michael Terry did a great job, too.”

Kane was optimistic early on, as well, but he never got ahead of himself. He put his head down and went to work.

“I was feeling good throughout,” Kane said. “I was in a position where I got a lot of great help from the trainers and a lot of good ideas we went through to try to speed up the process a little bit. It seemed like surgery went real well. I was at a point where maybe I could come back a lot earlier than expected. You know I’ll give them a lot of credit. Obviously, it’s nice to be playing hockey with your teammates instead of sitting out watching. That was tough. I’m just happy to be here, happy to be a part of the team right now and playing games.”

Kane did have to feel out the first few games before he was comfortable skating through traffic and just realizing he could take a hit again. His first game back, he had two primary assists but still felt rusty. He had a goal in his second game. The third game was his lone one without a point in the playoffs. He finished the first round with two goals and five assists. With more hockey in the second round, he’s continued to get into more of a rhythm.

Wild forward Zach Parise has a lot of familiarity with Kane’s game as an opponent in the NHL, as a teammate for the U.S. national team and in training together under Darryl Belfry in the offseason. Parise hasn’t noticed a difference in Kane from pre- to post-injury.

“He’s played really well,” Parise said. “It’s always tough coming back from an injury for anybody. He’s not showing too many signs of still being hurt or still feeling it. People have been physical on him, and it doesn’t look like it's hurting or bothering him at all.”

Even with the numbers Kane has put up, he hasn’t been pleased with his overall performance. His timing still doesn’t feel perfect to him.

“I think it’s one of things you gain as you come back,” Kane said. “I was trying to get it back as soon as possible, whether it’s practices or games or whatever may be. Sometimes it takes a little while. Sometimes you kind of catch it right way. I still don’t know if I have it completely back yet. But it’s one of those things when you’re scoring goals and putting pucks in the back of the net, sometimes things look better than they actually are.”

The Blackhawks like how it looks now but would gladly accept anything more for Kane.

“It’s impressive the way he’s playing,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. “He did it last year also [after missing the last 12 regular-season games]. I don’t think he missed as much time. But his first game [last season] was Game 1 against St. Louis, I think he scored in the first period.

“His playoff history has been pretty impressive up to this day. I’m sure it’s going to get a lot better going forward. Kaner’s the type of player ... he scores when it looks like he doesn’t have a whole lot of opportunity to do so. We’re lucky we have him on our side.”