CHICAGO - Patrick Kane has felt the heat before.
After a slow start at the Olympics for Team USA, he was one of the best players as the tournament wore on and had a strong game against Canada in what turned out to be a gold medal game for the ages (if you live north of the 49th parallel).
Now the young Chicago Blackhawks forward is on the grill again, standing in a semi-circle of media in the ’Hawks dressing room Saturday, fiddling with a New York Yankees cap in his hand and facing questions about his performance in the Stanley Cup final. He has a goal and two assists, but was minus-4 in the 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 Friday night.
He found himself split up from regular linemates Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien, his place taken by Andrew Ladd. Kane wound up on a line with Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg.
The ’Hawks need desperately to reverse the momentum the Flyers have created for themselves with back-to-back wins in Philly and they need guys like Kane to help lead the way.
Kane said Saturday he’s hoping he learned from his Olympic experience.
“I think that’s something you can look back on,” he said. “That was another high level where maybe at the time you are trying to do too much and trying to prove too much. But I think as time went on, I think 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 have went either way in this series. You still want to work hard. You want to create your own breaks and create your own chances. (The Olympics) is definitely something I can look back on and relate to.”
It might be asking a lot of a 20-year-old to be one of the guys to heft a team up on his shoulders, but the ’Hawks don’t have much choice. Kane helped get them this far with 20 points heading into the final.
When Kane is at his best, he has the puck and hangs onto it, bobbing and weaving until there’s an opening for himself or a linemate. A big part of the problem for him in this series is the Flyers have been denying him the puck and, particularly in the case of the Daniel Briere line for the Flyers, forcing him to play defence.
“Sometimes it gets you frustrated and you want to get the puck even more,” said Kane, who has also spent many of his shifts having to stare into the crest of Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger.
“He’s really good with the puck. He makes good passes. He’s not just strictly defence,” said Kane. “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 all the credit to the forwards and the way they’ve been coached as far as how to backcheck and how to play us in the zone off the top. That seems where we’re struggling a little bit, to be honest with you.”
As far as the prospect of starting Game 5 Sunday night on a different line than Toews and Byfuglien, Kane said: “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. We’ll see what happens.”