CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews raced into the offensive zone stride-for-stride with Marian Hossa on his right and Patrick Kane to his left.
The sight of the Blackhawks' captain centring for that talented tandem during Monday's practice warmed the hearts of his teammates while at the same time no doubt made the Coyotes' blood run cold.
In the best indicator yet that he is on the verge of returning from a concussion that sidelined him the final 22 games of the regular season, Toews participated in drills as the centre on a super-charged line with Kane and Hossa. Barring any setbacks, it appears those three will skate together in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarter-finals against the Coyotes on Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz.
"To be on a line (Monday) for the first time, it sparks a little energy in you and gives you a little hope," Toews said. "I'm happy I'm finally getting better and closer to playing."
While Toews said he's "not sure about that yet" when asked if he'll definitely be in the lineup, it's clear the post-season has arrived and the 23-year-old is set to join the fray. Toews had been close to playing in the final two games of the regular season but instead chose to take the extra time, and he's "very confident" in a Thursday return.
"It's playoff time now and especially those last few games you don't really know what to expect from other teams in the regular season -- especially teams that aren't going to be in the playoffs," Toews said. "We wanted to kind of err on the cautious side by me not playing. I'm feeling a little more confident that Thursday might be the day, but we'll see when that time comes."
Toews indicated last week he still felt concussion symptoms when elevating his heart rate during practices. Those, he said, are for the most part a thing of the past.
"I wouldn't call them symptoms anymore," Toews said. "I'm just working on conditioning and making sure I'm ready to go and don't get tired in a game. There are always some feelings there that are going to come back and it's probably going to be the same thing in a game. Most of all, it's just about protecting yourself and making sure you're not putting yourself in a position where you can get hit, or something like that can happen again."
As far as an all-star No. 1 line, Toews believes he'll click with Kane and Hossa. The trio combined for 81 goals during the regular season.
"The guys are joking a little bit in the locker-room that we're going to need three pucks on our line because everyone wants to keep the puck," Toews said. "We have three guys who can make plays. Hossa is a big body who is going to protect the puck and keep plays alive, and Kane has been playing well and scoring goals. I just want to be the catalyst, the guy who's going to make things happen and let them do their jobs."
-- Chicago Tribune