Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook seemed OK and said he felt good after taking a blow to the head in Game 3 of the Blackhawks' best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final with Vancouver.
But he hasn't played since.
In the aftermath of a crushing hit from Canucks forward Raffi Torres last Sunday, Seabrook missed the next two games — both lopsided Chicago victories that have cut Vancouver's once imposing series lead to 3-2 entering Game 6 on Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Seabrook was back on the ice skating in practice Saturday and will suit up Sunday.
"He's a big guy physically. He's able to — I don't know if the word is fight back — but withstand that type of hit," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told reporters following a team meeting Sunday. "I think there are processes you go to go through, but at the same time we know that the one thing you don't have to worry about is his toughness. It's there."
Asked if he had any more symptoms from the apparent concussion that sidelined him, Seabrook replied: "Nope." "I'm optimistic I can go tomorrow," he said. "We'll see."
Chicago's play improved greatly as the Blackhawks seemed to rally behind Seabrook after he absorbed the blow that many of his teammates thought merited a suspension.
Fellow defenceman Duncan Keith has scored four goals in the last three games, picking up the slack with Seabrook gone on both ends of the ice.
"The fact that he gets to play again is going to help us out in a lot of ways," Quenneville said of Seabrook. "He assumes a lot of quality ice time in all situations, as well as gives us some size and some presence back there. He's got a big shot offensively, so it's nice to have him back there."
Chicago was charged up, twice forcing Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo to be pulled during decisive five-goal victories in Games 4 and 5.
Seabrook said he starting feeling OK on Friday.
"It was very frustrating, obviously. I wanted to be out there with the guys," Seabrook said. "I was talking with them and asking for another chance to get in the lineup and they've done an unbelievable job. They played two great games. Hopefully [Sunday] is a better day for me and I can get back in there and help the guys out."
The six-foot-three, 218-pound Seabrook has five goals and 18 assists in 42 career playoff games. He has not scored in the three games he has played in the Canucks' series and is a minus-1. During the regular season, Seabrook had nine goals, 39 assists and had 227 hits.
In changing the tenor of the series, Chicago has found its power play, been able to open up the ice, and solved Luongo over the last two games. And rookie Corey Crawford - who has worked in summer goalie camps with Luongo - has outplayed the Vancouver star, including a Game 5 shutout when he made 36 saves.
"It's a team game. I'm worried about tomorrow night more than just what happened the last couple of games," said Luongo, who has given up 10 goals in 40 shots the last two games and has had trouble with the Blackhawks for three straight playoffs.
Playing at the United Center, though, he said is something he enjoys, despite some of the struggles.
"It's fun. I love it when the crowd yells at me, even when I got pulled," Luongo said.
Time to tighten up
Vancouver must help Luongo by slowing down Chicago to get open paths in mid-ice.
"If you look at our last two games, you think, 'Wow they're not competing, they're not doing this or doing that,'" Canucks forward Henrik Sedin said. "Anything can be created when you give a team that much room in the middle of the ice. They're coming with speed against our D-men, and a lot of times it's three against two or three against one."
Duncan Keith, Seabrook's good friend and running mate on defence, has been the main catalyst. Keith has scored four goals over the last three games and had four points in Thursday night's victory at Vancouver.
Keith made a somewhat surprising admission on Friday, explaining his slow start and sluggish performance at times this season — one year after winning the Norris Trophy.
"I played a lot of games the year before and there's things I probably could have done differently in the summer to prepare for this season," Keith said. "I like to work out and train a lot and feel good going into the season. I'm not making any excuses, but I didn't feel excited coming back to start the season. That's just being honest."
Sometimes he's played well, others not so much.
"I felt like I had really good stretches and then there were times where, I would, I don't want to say lose focus, but not really as interested for whatever reason," he added.
Now he's really into it and so are the Blackhawks. And the play has become increasingly chippy between the heated rivals. Chicago's Dave Bolland, who returned for Game 4 after missing 17 games with a concussion, was irate over a hit near his head from Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis on Thursday.
The Canucks are taking the approach that, even though they don't have to win Sunday night as the Blackhawks do, it will be like a Game 7.
"It puts us all in the same frame of mind as the other guys," Luongo said. "Obviously, you may have a little bit of a comfort level at 3-0, but there is no more room for mistakes. We want to make sure we are playing as desperate as the other side."