Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw celebrates after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues during the third period in Game 6 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series in Chicago, Sunday, April 27, 2014. The Blackhawks won 5-1. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: May 20, 2014 8:38PM
Andrew Shaw strode to the lectern, looked over at the assembled media he hadn’t seen in nearly three weeks and smiled.
“You guys miss me?” he said.
Because it’s Shaw, and because Shaw’s motormouth is his most glaring character trait in an otherwise laid-back Blackhawks dressing room, his return to practice on Tuesday was an opportunity for everyone to break out their best one-liners.
“We miss making fun of him,” Patrick Sharp said.
“Never a dull moment with Shawzie out there,” Corey Crawford said.
Even Shaw himself got in on the act, when asked whom he’s been chirping in the 18 days since he suffered an apparent leg injury in Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild.
“My girlfriend’s probably upset — the past two weeks, I probably put her through hell,” Shaw said. “She’s excited for me to be back, as well.”
But his comedic value aside, Shaw certainly has been missed by the Hawks, even though they’ve won four of six games without him. Despite being the smallest guy on the team at 5-10, he’s the Hawks’ most effective net-front presence, expertly screening goalies and tipping shots (he joked that his now-famous shin pads are excited to be back, too). He’s also one of their most physical players, third on the team in hits this season. And when he’s on the ice, he’s the team’s beating heart — the irascible agitator who’s as capable of a momentum-turning shift as anyone on the team.
“It’s nice to have him back, and he’s a big part of our team in a lot of ways — from energy, to scoring goals, to big hits, to getting the team pumped up with the way he plays,” Patrick Kane said. “We’ll welcome him back with open arms when he’s ready to come.”
That might not be Game 2 on Wednesday. Tuesday was Shaw’s first practice with the team, after a series of what he deemed “bag skates” with assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and Jamie Kompon on his own to get him back into game shape. He was wearing a white jersey — which usually signifies the “fifth line” of healthy scratches — along with Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom.
And while Shaw said he feels he’s ready to play, that’s ultimately Joel Quenneville’s decision. And Quenneville was noncommittal, at best. With two more days off before Game 3 in Los Angeles, the Hawks could sit him one more game and give him more time to prepare.
“We’ll see on that,” Queneville said. “I thought he was OK today. First time with the group there, hadn’t skated in a while. We’re not sure yet on [Game 2].”
Quenneville said that he would have “had to fight him not to play him” had there been a Game 7 against Minnesota, but the Game 6 win allowed him to be more cautious. For the Hawks dressing room, it’s meant a lot of peace and quiet. For Shaw, it’s been agony.
“Horrible,” he said. “You want to be out there helping your team win. The guys did well. We beat out a good Minnesota team. We came out hard in the first game against the Kings. It sucks to sit back and watch. [But] I’d rather be 100 percent, come back and be there for the long run.”
That’s what the Hawks are counting on, whether he comes back Wednesday or Saturday. Because while he’s not the biggest or the best player on the team, Shaw is clearly one of the most irreplaceable.
“He’s going to be playing with a lot of energy and playing that usual game that he plays,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’ll expect him to be that fearless player, just going into traffic like he normally does. It’ll be good to have him back in the room when he’s ready to go.”