ST. LOUIS — The names of recently injured players dot both the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues lineups.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will play their first games after missing time down the stretch. The Blues won’t have Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie but they’ll have several others returning. The big questions are there: how will the recently injured parties react and are they all healthy enough to be playing? We’ll see about the former, and guys usually just deal with the latter.
“It’s an 82-game grind to get here. It’s the playoffs,” said Blues forward Brenden Morrow, who had a foot injury late in the regular season. “Once that puck drops, you don’t feel the pain.”
Everyone plays with something at some point during the postseason. But to start the playoffs coming off injuries could be a little tougher. Some players may not find their pre-injury game right away. Some players will have to shake off some rust. How everyone reacts will be evident soon, as the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues play Game 1 of their first-round series tonight.
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who suffered a hand injury that required surgery, hasn’t played since March 15. Coach Ken Hitchcock praised his young forward for putting in the work to return for Game 1, which is ahead of schedule. But Hitchcock said it’s still going to be a challenge.
“He's never played in a playoff game very much and secondly, he's missed a lot of time. We understand that part; but between the training staff and his commitment to conditioning knowing that the injury he had would allow him to play right away, he himself deserves an awful lot of credit,” Hitchcock said. “He has worked extra hard to be in the best shape of his life right now, which is going to allow him to keep up at this time of year."
Kane suffered his left-knee injury on March 19 and worked to get himself ready, although his return comes on schedule. Still, adjustments have to be made; Kane’s been skating with a brace for about 10 days now and will probably wear it for a bit. But he said he won’t be thinking about it much.
“It’s kind of the last thing on my mind when you’re out there playing and skating,” he said. “It’s not like I’m thinking, ‘How’s my brace feeling?’ You’re thinking about the play and making the right ones. It’s something I have to deal with, but I’m really not worried about it.”
Toews wasn’t off nearly as long; his left arm/shoulder injury kept him out about two weeks. The Blackhawks captain doesn’t look at his injury, or off time from it, as a liability.
“It’s helped me prepare for this series and to be ready to play the best hockey I’ve played all year,” he said. “I feel I’m ready to do that.”