By Chris Emma–
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There’s something to be said for success at the highest level. In sports, superstars become greats or goats based on whether they can rise to the occasion in the most meaningful games. Superstars make plays all season long, but the greats win games and championships.
Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane continues to prove in the Stanley Cup Playoffs why he belongs among hockey’s greats. As Chicago has taken a 3-0 series lead against Minnesota in a second-round series, he has tied the Wild at four goals apiece. Yet Kane doesn’t say much.
“I’m just happy to be here, happy to be part of the team and winning games,” Kane said after Tuesday’s 1-0 Game 3 victory over the Wild.
The greatness of Kane isn’t often expressed by words. His soft-spoken tone doesn’t convey much of a persona that has drastically changed with maturity. Kane’s now reserved as a 26-year-old superstar in Chicago, having learned harsh lessons of poor public behavior during the early part of his Blackhawks career.
Kane’s due $84 million for a contract that lasts through 2023, and he maintains a serious demeanor that matches captain Jonathan Toews. It’s only Kane’s play that makes the noise now.
In Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center, the Blackhawks stood tall against the Wild’s energized start, then Kane tallied the lone goal in the first period by showing what makes him special.
Taking off from the Blackhawks’ defensive zone, he skated past every forest green sweater until only Devan Dubnyk was in sight. A pretty stretch pass from Andrew Shaw set Kane with a look at the Minnesota net.
When you’re an elite talent like Kane, this plays out in slow motion.
“I don’t think too many people can do that,” winger Patrick Sharp said. “He scores when there’s not much room to do so. I’m happy we have him on our team.”
Added defenseman Brent Seabrook: “Kaner’s a special guy.”
Throughout a sensational eight-year run with the Blackhawks, Kane has built a reputation as a clutch playoff performer. For all the skill and talent Kane possess, nothing will define him quite like his 2010 Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime against Philadelphia. That’s one of nine game-winning playoff goals in his career.
Only one active NHL player under the age of 35 boasts more game-winners in the playoffs than Kane. That’s teammate Toews, who has 10 at age 27. The two could race to the 24 set by Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull.
In 102 career playoff games, Kane has 102 points, with 43 goals and 59 assists. A one-point-per-game average in the postseason is astounding, but that’s just Kane.
This push for a summer with the Cup brought new circumstances for Kane. A broken clavicle and subsequent surgery meant he was to miss an expected 12 weeks. Returning for Game 1 of the first round in Nashville was hardly considered to be realistic, but Kane isn’t your ordinary player.
After a successful surgery, Kane consulted with team trainers and doctors to construct a plan that would allow an early return. He was fortunate that the injury did not limit his lower body, allowing him to continue skating while rehabilitating the shoulder.
The Blackhawks maintained Kane’s return would come in a potential Western Conference Final, but Kane and the medical staff would dictate his actual timetable behind closed doors. Kane just wanted to keep working on the ice. He came back about five weeks ahead of schedule.
“Seems like it took him 20 minutes in the first game to get up to speed, and then he was fine again,” Seabrook said.
Added Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville: “Kaner loves to be out there.”
Quenneville referred to Kane’s season as “MVP-type” before the Panthers’ Alex Petrovic pushed him into the United Center boards in late February, inducing the clavicle injury. Kane recorded 27 goals and 37 assists in just 61 regular-season games and was the NHL leader in points when he left clutching his shoulder.
Believe it or not, Kane’s getting even better. After a seven-week absence from the ice, “Showtime” returned without showing any signs of rust.
“It’s nice to be playing hockey with your teammates instead of sitting and watching,” Kane said. “That was tough.”
Kane’ truly grown as a player and person. He entered the Blackhawks organization as a raw talent and used the guidance of Quenneville to become an elite team player. He grew up from poor public decisions and turned into a face for Chicago’s Original Six organization.
Kane has transitioned from being a talented youngster to an NHL superstar to one of hockey’s most clutch playoff performers. He has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice and could well do it again this season.
The spectacular Kane lets his immense skill and greatness do all the talking now.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.