IN A LATE-NIGHT phone call to his agent on Feb. 24, Patrick Kane's voice quaked. The Blackhawks' star had fractured his clavicle hours earlier in a first-period collision with the United Center boards, snapping the momentum of an MVP-caliber season. When he went down, Kane was tied for the NHL lead with 64 points. It's ruined, Kane said to Pat Brisson. No players like to get injured; to the 26-year-old Kane, however, his broken collarbone felt like injustice, bone-deep.
But by the next morning Kane had gone from doleful to determined. The winger promised Brisson that he would beat the 12-week timetable doctors had given him for recovery. "His goal was to surprise everyone," Brisson says.
The 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner wasn't supposed to be back until mid-May, but he returned ahead of schedule for Chicago's playoff opener against the Predators, on April 15. It was as if he had never left. He had two assists in a 4--3 double-overtime victory over Nashville, and he now has 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) this postseason as the Blackhawks are looking to win their third Stanley Cup in six years. "I think we would have let him off the hook if his production wouldn't have been there right away," captain Jonathan Toews says. "But I can't say anyone around here is surprised that he's doing what he's doing. When he raises his game, it just seems to be normal for him."
To return to normal, Kane, who now has 111 points in 110 career postseason games, followed a nutrition regimen to promote healing. When he wasn't rebuilding strength in his left shoulder, he was stickhandling a ball around the Chicago dressing room. "When I came back, it wasn't like I was supposed to be the savior," Kane said. "I was coming back into a role where I could kind of get myself into it."
If his play in the Blackhawks' defeat of the Ducks in the Western Conference finals is any indication, he will be as dangerous as ever against the Lightning in the Stanley Cup finals. He scored in Game 3 on a no-look backhander. In Game 6 he undressed Anaheim winger Matt Beleskey, skating around him, before wristing home a goal from the slot. Kane added three assists in a 5--3 Game 7 win, including a smooth backdoor feed that left teammate Brandon Saad with an empty net. Kane is the perfect rejoinder to a Tampa Bay team that boasts a raft of slick forwards.
"You miss seven weeks, there's no player that doesn't feel rusty," center Brad Richards says of Kane. "It's just that he's that good."
DENNIS WIERZBICKI/USA TODAY SPORTS