ST. LOUIS – Patrick Kane looked somewhat relieved late Thursday night.
No, it wasn’t about the game; that was disappointing. The relief was regarding the Chicago Blackhawks forward’s return to game action for the first time in a month, the left knee that’s still in a brace and how he’d handle it all.
The answer was clear: Kane was back, he was fine and he was relieved. And his strong return, as well as Jonathan Toews’, should only benefit him and the Blackhawks as this series continues.
Kane and Toews looked great on Thursday, when they returned from their respective injuries in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 triple-overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues. Coach Joel Quenneville pronounced both 100 percent and ready before the series began. Toews, who suffered a left arm/shoulder injury, was chomping at the bit to return. So was Kane, although the right wing said recently he would’ve liked a late regular-season game to shake off injury rust. Didn’t matter; Kane looked strong on Thursday, recording his breakaway goal and six shots in 28:31 of ice time.
“I was a little nervous and anxious to get back and play a game but it felt good being out there,” Kane said. “Hopefully just keep getting better. As you play more, hopefully get more comfortable with playing again.”
Toews, meanwhile, had no apprehension entering Game 1. Still, he took his lumps. A Ryan Reaves hit left him bloody for a few moments. Toews, who had two assists, sported a gash above his right eye after the game.
Coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw from both.
“They were both really good in a lot of ways,” he said. “Kaner had the puck a lot, made a lot of nice plays. He was a threat. He was dangerous every time he hit the ice. (Toews) played his normal game. He's so reliable and effective in all areas and we use him in all situations. They looked like they didn't miss a beat down the stretch. It was good to see those guys both return and look like they belong.”
Their teammates weren’t stunned by the great returns, either.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” Patrick Sharp said. “Kaner, you see him score big goals all the time, whether it’s in a big playoff game or when he goes him to Buffalo. He always seems to step up and score on the big stage. (Toews) was in the mix all night long and playing well.”
The Blackhawks have two of their best back, and they looked good in their first post-injury outings. This series is going to be tough and tight, and the Blackhawks can only benefit from Kane and Toews rebounding the way they have.
“I don’t think anyone had any questions about those two returning,” Sharp said. “It’s probably difficult coming back into a playoff series against the Blues in their building, but they played well and we’ll probably expect them to get better and better as the series goes on.”