Patrick Kane: The Flu? Really?

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IApril 21, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 08: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks slips and falls under Mike Commodore #22 of the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 8, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Blue Jackets defeated the Blackhawks 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Last night in Calgary, the Blackhawks lost a hard-fought battle against the Flames, 4-2.

Noticeably absent from the ice was last year's Calder Trophy winner, Patrick Kane. He stayed back at the team hotel and did not participate in the morning skate because of "flu-like symptoms."

Really, Patrick? The flu?

Rewind to Game One of the series, on home ice at the United Center. Kane was skating up the far boards getting ready to unload a pass to one of the Hawks defenders when a shadow approached. Rene Bourque nearly snapped the kid in half, and Kane had trouble getting back to his feet and leaving the ice.

From the looks of it, an angel got its wings on that one; Kane's bell was ringing like crazy.

In Game Two, Kane had a nice assist to Patrick Sharp for the Hawks' first goal of the night, but his minutes were down dramatically. His accuracy with both shots and passes, with the exception of the tally to Sharp, wasn't as good as usual.

Second rewind, this time to the end of December. Kane was off to a wonderful start to his sophomore season until, on Dec. 30, he was harmed during a game in Detroit. The resulting lower body injury (ankle) has been one of the crutches fans have used for Kane's numbers falling off during the second half of the season.

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Here's the problem I have with both Kane and how the Hawks are handling the diminutive magician. After the hit in Detroit, one that left Kane requiring assistance to make it off the ice, the Hawks still allowed Kane to play in the Winter Classic two days later at Wrigley Field. He didn't put in big minutes and was nowhere on the stat sheet.

Kane would miss the next handful of games after the Classic because of the ankle injury from the Detroit game.

If you're a fan with even an ounce of cynicism in your body, then you realize why Kane played on New Year's Day. It was a showcase for the entire nation to see an Original Six rivalry game in one of the hallowed sporting venues of North America, Wrigley Field. It meant a lot to the National Hockey League.

It meant even more to the dollars of John MacDonough's marketing staff at the United Center. The special edition Classic jerseys were flying off the shelves faster than anything with the Hawks logo on it in nearly 20 years. The commercials, promotional items, and money invested made this event a success.

How could the team hosting the event not have the reigning Rookie of the Year on the ice?

So, Kane played, and didn't do anything in the game except to put more stress on a bad wheel than he should have.

Let's move back to this past week. On Thursday night, there was no questioning Kane's effort. But after the hit from Bourque, I'm not sold on him being totally right in the head. There were Jim Belushi and Jay Cutler sightings, but those weren't the stars the 20-year-old was seeing.

I believe that Kane played in Game Two for the exact same reason he played in the Winter Classic: marketing. The roar came back to Chicago's west side, and the franchise couldn't have one of their marquee players on the bench in a suit.

So, Kane played—this time probably with a few cobwebs between the ears.

Finally, fast-forward back to last night. The game in Calgary was as hard-hitting as any game this season, with Bourque taking three slashing minors personally. The game ended with almost the entire Blackhawks team in the locker room because of penalties. Every time there was a stop in play, a helmet came off.

If Kane, who is indeed as talented as any player in the series when healthy, was still feeling the effects of the hit from Bourque on Thursday, then the Hawks would have been insane to send him out on the ice last night.

It's been obvious through the first two games that Kane has a target on his back, mostly because of his ability and his body weight (maybe 180 in full pads and holding a 10-pound weight in each hand). If you look at Kane without his helmet on, you'd think he would be breaking a curfew law every time the Hawks play overtime.

I'm not saying the Flames are playing dirty hockey. This is playoff hockey, and every series has been physical on a level not seen during the regular season; the first game of the Vancouver-St. Louis series saw 21 penalties!

But if the Hawks have invested so much money in this young star, and he was still shaken up from the hit in Game One, then why risk the rest of his postseason? If there was a game the Hawks could afford to lose, it was the first game in Calgary. So why put him in front of 15 players that have a 40-pound advantage and their eyes set on his number?

I'm going to wager that Patrick Kane watched the game from the hotel so he didn't get snapped like a twig last night. I'll also say I have no problem with that, because the Hawks need him healthy in order to do anything this spring.

Just don't tell us he's got the flu. We're smarter than that, and we all realize that Kane stayed in the hotel to avoid the hitting that everyone knew was coming last night. But come up with something better than the flu as an excuse.

Food poisoning, maybe?