CHICAGO - Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had time to heal. Now, they're ready to launch a title defence.
The Chicago Blackhawks have their stars back and their sights set on a second straight Stanley Cup as they head into the playoffs with a first-round matchup against the St. Louis Blues.
"I think once we get a feel for just being in a playoff game again it's going to be exciting," Toews said after Monday's skate. "It's a long season, a lot of challenges coming your way, a lot of injuries, a lot of ups and downs. I think we've done a great job of dealing with all that. We would have liked to have home ice. We would have liked to maybe have a season like we did last year where everything went our way the whole way, but that wasn't case.."
The Blackhawks are shooting for their third title in five years. If they win it all this time around, they'll be the first to repeat since Detroit in 1997 and 1998.
They finished fifth in the Western Conference with 107 points and earned the third seed in the Central Division after storming through the regular season a year ago. They had to get by without their two biggest stars down the stretch after Kane (lower body injury) and Toews (upper body) were sidelined. Both are now ready to go.
Games 1 and 2 are Thursday and Saturday in St. Louis, with the best-of-7 series shifting to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 next week.
"Everybody likes our team," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Everybody believes that we can win a championship, but I don't feel the weight of the world that, 'Hey, have to win, have to win, have to win.' We're all excited about the challenge."
Kane is simply looking forward to suiting up again.
"I'm excited to get things going," he said. "I've watched a lot of hockey lately, so it's going to be nice to play in some games now."
That's something he has not done since March 19. The Blackhawks beat St. Louis at home that night, but they lost their top scorer along the way. Kane, who was leading Chicago with 69 points, hurt his left leg when St. Louis' Brenden Morrow fell into him. Two weeks later, Toews came up holding his left arm after getting drilled by Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik.
The Blues have endured their share of injuries. They dropped the final six games to fall out of contention for the No. 1 overall seed. They also missed out on the Central title with Colorado taking the division, which also meant the Blackhawks avoided the surging Avalanche.
"We're not going to think that we have an easier team to play against," Toews said. "That's definitely not going to be the case. They're a team that loves to play physical against us and we've got to expect that. There's no reason why we can't return that as well. We'll be ready to bring that type of effort."
He's had time to recharge, physically and mentally. The same goes for Kane.
"We've had some rest here and like I said, I've been watching a lot of hockey, whether it's been the Blackhawks or other teams, and kind of tuning into see all the games played and see some things that you can pick up on," Kane said.