Kane fights adversity again on big stage
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane didn't duck the questions.
"I know for myself, I think I can take it another level. I definitely want to be better," Kane said. "Right now, it's just not working. Like I said, I'll work hard at practice tomorrow, try to get things going, and I think the big thing for me is just to go out there and play my game."
The thing is, those comments were not from Saturday. No, they were from Feb. 23-24 at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The Team USA star had but one goal through four games in Vancouver, and that was against Norway. Kane was scuffling but promised to battle through it.
Did he ever. Kane kept his best for last, breaking through in a big semifinal win over Finland and then playing arguably the best game of any Team USA player in a thrilling gold-medal loss to Team Canada. In the biggest game of all, before a huge worldwide audience, Kane brought it, big time.
More than three months later, Kane needs to fight through adversity again on the big stage. On the eve of a pivotal Game 5 against the Philadelphia Flyers with the Stanley Cup finals tied at two games apiece, the 21-year-old winger has but one goal and an assist in the series, and he has not been impressive.
We asked him Saturday whether his journey in the Olympic tournament could serve as a motivator.
"Yeah, I think that's something you can look back on," said Kane. "That was another high level that, at the time, you're trying to do a little too much and trying to prove too much. But I think as time went on, you get a little more comfortable with the situation, the big stage. To be honest with you, I think here and there, the breaks could've went either way in this series. But you still want to work hard and you want to create your own breaks and create your own chances. But that's definitely something I can look back on and try to relate to."
And why not? He faced Flyers blueliner Chris Pronger in Vancouver and found a way to remain dangerous. Why can't he do it now? For the umpteenth time Saturday, Kane was asked about Pronger.
"He's really good with the puck," said Kane. "He makes good passes and he's not just strictly defense. That makes it tough on you. When you're out there against him, he's pretty big. He has a big reach and he takes up a lot of time and space. I'm going to give a lot of credit to their forwards and the way they've been coached as far as how to backcheck us and play us in the zone at the top, and that seems like where we're struggling a little bit."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville took a page out of Team USA coach Ron Wilson's playbook in the third period Friday night and shifted Kane to a new line. That was what helped Kane snap out of it in Vancouver, where Wilson played him with Ryan Kesler and Dustin Brown after he had begun the tournament with Paul Stastny and Zach Parise.
We asked the U.S. Olympic coach Saturday to compare Kane's situation then and now.
"Remember, this is an entirely different kind of adversity," Wilson said via e-mail. "This is for the Stanley Cup, and we forget how young some of these guys are. I think both teams' grinders are doing a great job of taking away space for the skill [players]. Both teams' D have stepped it up on the skill, taking away ice. Philly's forecheck has been great, and the fact that [Flyers coach] Peter [Laviolette] has his D up on every rush has shortened the ice and allowed their D to be in the Hawks' face.
"When you can't get up to speed, which is Kane's greatest asset, along with his ability to find trailers on the play, I don't think the Hawks' D have been aggressive enough on the rush, which allows Kaner to do his thing. Most of Kaner's plays in the Olympics were to the second wave or the D coming on the third wave. He has incredible vision."
Kane had his moments in Game 3, including his breakaway goal; but we believe he regressed in Game 4, playing too much of a perimeter game.
Quenneville saw enough Friday night and split regular linemates Kane and Jonathan Toews. The logic was obvious: Pronger can't check them both if they're on separate lines. It worked late in the game Friday.
"I think it was good for us in the third period," said Kane. "It seemed like they had a little bit more to match up to. I think we balanced out the lines a little bit. It got the energy going too. ... I think sometimes change is healthy. You can mix things up a bit and hopefully energize guys and get things going with different players. I think it worked pretty good last game."
Quenneville said Saturday he would think overnight about his line combinations. He's notorious for changing them after a rough patch. Expect changes for Sunday night. "We might make some adjustments as far as who is who," he said.
As for Kane, don't be surprised if the coach has a chat with him, but Quenneville remains strong in his belief that Kane will come through.
"I think he's a competitive guy and he wants to be the best he can be," said the coach. "We expect him to move forward in this series and welcome the challenge."
Kane did just that three months ago when the stakes were as high as can be for Team USA. Now the pressure is on to do it again. The Hawks' Cup hopes may depend on it.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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