CHICAGO - Jonathan Toews skated swiftly up the ice as the centre on a star-filled line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. And when it was time to work on the power play, Toews' familiar No. 19 was camped in front of the net.
His presence and energy at Monday's hour long practice suggested Toews will be ready to return to the Chicago Blackhawks lineup when the playoffs begin Thursday night in Phoenix. The team captain and one of Chicago's biggest stars hasn't played in a game since Feb. 19, missing the final 22 regular-season games with a concussion.
There's a bit of rust, although Toews has been skating for a month, and a question of conditioning under game stress. And will he have any setbacks? A final decision on whether he'll play in the opener against the Coyotes might not be announced until just before the game.
"I'm very confident. .... We'll see when that time comes," Toews said. "It's playoff time right now, especially these last few games you don't know what to expect from other teams in the regular season, especially teams that aren't going to be in in the playoffs. So we want to err on the cautious side by me not playing."
Toews has 29 goals and 28 assists in 59 games this season. He's a strong defensive player, as well, and the team's leader. But the Blackhawks have regrouped during his absence and played well in the stretch to finish with 101 points, good for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
"I want to come back to the lineup and fit right in. The boys have been playing really well. At the same time I feel like I have missed out on a lot when you are out of the lineup for almost two months, you are missing out on a lot of things," Toews said.." Not always on the ice, but in the locker room, too. And on the road."
Toews said it's not realistic to expect him to be the same player he was right away.
"I just want to go out and play well and do the little things well. I think at this point that is all I need to do," he said. "I said it before I'm not going to go out there and try to do too much, go out there and score three goals right away. Those sort of things just happen, just go out and play hard and let things happen."
Patrick Sharp said if Toews is able to play, he expects he'll be effective against a Phoenix team that beat the Blackhawks three times in four games this season and has a red-hot goalie in Mike Smith.
"I've been out for long stretches and then came back," said Sharp, who was sidelined earlier with a wrist injury. "I anticipate him to come back and pick up right where he left off. ...He's a great player. He's played well in the playoffs in the past and he's a big part of our team so we welcome him back with open arms if he's able to play."
If Toews can play on that line, Kane would switch to left wing. He's played well as a centre late in the season and is more accustomed to the right side when he's on the wing. But he's ready to make another switch, if necessary.
"I'll still try to get the puck wherever I can and come up the ice - up the middle, up the right side, up the left side, I don't think it really matters once the game starts. We just want to play with the puck," Kane said.
"We're going to get chances, especially with the amount of skill that we have. But, yeah, it seems like it could be a fun line."