It was almost inevitable that Patrick Kane was going to need a few games to regain his elite level of play.
After missing the final month of the regular season with a lower-body injury after an opponent landed on his left leg during a game on March 19, Kane got back into the lineup in the opening game of the Chicago Blackhawks' Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues. He scored a breakaway goal near the end of the first period in that game at Scottrade Center, but didn't really look like himself.
But in Game 4 on Wednesday at United Center, Kane looked as dangerous as ever. He scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime of Chicago's 4-3 victory that knotted the best-of-7 series at 2-2. He also assisted on Andrew Shaw's goal that opened the scoring in the second period.
"I was out a month, so you're not going to come back [the same]," said Kane, who was moved off captain Jonathan Toews' top line early in the third period. "You can get all the rest you need, but you're not going to come back and have that game pace and timing that you had when you left, so it takes a little while. It's something I've never really dealt with too much throughout my career. I'm trying to do my best."
His best was good enough for another huge goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored 11:17 into overtime to cap a 3-on-3 rush that he led up ice from Chicago's blue line. After carrying into the Blues' defensive zone, he pumped a wrist shot over goalie Ryan Miller's shoulder into the top left corner to end it.
This one wasn't nearly as big as Kane's series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, but it was up there.
"It's fun scoring these kinds of goals, that's for sure," Kane said. "I thought we had a lot of chances in overtime. [Ben Smith] had a couple, Toews' line had a couple and [Brandon Saad] had a chance too, so it was just inevitable that it was coming. I felt like it was going to be that next shot that went in and luckily enough that was me that tried to get one on net and sink a winner."
From his viewpoint on the opposing bench, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock watched Kane skate the puck up the ice knowing full well what might happen. Hitchcock hasn't really noticed a significant uptick in Kane's play through the first four games; he just assumes it's elite whenever No. 88 steps onto the ice.
Kane's first goal was a beauty as well. Chicago led 1-0 in the second period when another rush into the Blues' end ended with defenseman Johnny Oduya throwing a perfect feed to Kane from the left half wall. Kane redirected it into a wide opening on the back side for a 2-0 lead and his second point of the game.
"I think he got loose on us [tonight], because of what we did in the offensive zone," Hitchcock said. "He got loose on us on rush attacks because we turned the puck over in the offensive zone. He's a dangerous player. He's dangerous off the rush. He's the most dangerous player in the League."
Kane is also four games into his effort to regain his timing, stickhandling and speed after those skills got rusty during his injury stint. In fact, if you factor in triple OT in Game 1 plus two more OT finishes, Kane has played the equivalent of five games already heading into Game 5 on Friday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, FS-MW, CSN-CH).
"I don't know if playing six periods your first game back is really something you plan on, but it's extra time I guess to skate and get used to things out there," he said. "You can look at it any way you want."
There's only one way to look at the series, after Kane helped the Blackhawks storm back from a 2-0 hole to force a tie and make it a best-of-3 showdown.
Back-to-back wins have the Blackhawks feeling good about their chances.
"We kind of have the momentum now," Kane said. "We know it's going to be a tough game in Game 5 in their building. They're going to be fired up and that's always a tough place to play, pre-season, regular season or playoffs. So, we'll expect them to get better and we'll get better too."
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