Any good news is welcome at this point for the Chicago Blackhawks, who are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with three games to play.
Wednesday's biggest news, however, became much bigger when it was announced a couple of hours before the Hawks hosted the St. Louis Blues at the United Center (8 p.m. ET, Versus) that injured forward Patrick Sharp
would be in the lineup.
Sharp, sidelined for seven games with a knee injury, skated by himself and took some shots against goalie Marty Turco in the morning and then told Chicago coaches he was ready go – which comes as a surprise considering the Hawks usually like injured players to get in at least a team practice before returning to games.
Ultimately, though, it was up to Sharp – who decided that he'd been out long enough.
"The players (are) the ones ultimately that let you know if they can go or not," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said during a pregame press conference. "Then you make a decision on what's best for the hockey club. Certainly we could use him."
Quenneville didn't say how much ice time Sharp would get or if he'd be immediately placed back on the top line with Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Sharp
, but that's likely to be the case once the puck is dropped.
That trio spearheaded an eight-game winning streak in February that got the Hawks back into the West's top eight. Chicago's offense fell off greatly when Sharp was injured during a game at Phoenix on March 20.
Sharp, who still leads Chicago with 34 goals, must have impressed the coaches, front office staff and medical personnel enough on Wednesday to get the green light. Time is also running short, with Chicago just two points up on the ninth-place Dallas Stars heading into Wednesday night's action.
"He's been feeling good," Quenneville said of Sharp. "He's really progressed here in the last week or so. Every day he's been better and he was looking to see how it felt when he did get out there – and it was positive. We're encouraged. We talked to him and saw him on the ice. He said he felt good and he looked good."
Good enough to play his normal amount or even extended minutes?
"If he's ready to go, we'll see how he is when he's playing," Quenneville said. "Then you'll know how much he can handle. But I would expect if he's going he's ready to play. When you're ready, you can go or you can't go. We leave that up to the player and the docs, and if there is clearance … you know, ‘Let's go.' "
Just getting Sharp back on the ice has to be a lift for a team that's gone 3-3-1 and scored just 13 goals during his absence -- including a pair of shutout losses. The Hawks have also struggled to find the right combination on the top line with Toews and Kane – even splitting the two stars onto different lines during a 2-1 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.
Chicago, which is also just two points ahead of the Calgary Flames, is also missing center Dave Bolland
(concussion) and saw forward Troy Brouwer go down early in the third against Montreal with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
Quenneville said that Brouwer, who leads Chicago with 262 hits, is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Chicago called up forward Ben Smith
from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Wednesday morning and may opt to start him instead of using power forward John Scott.
"It's a huge game for us," Quenneville said of the meeting with the Blues. "We have to win to control our destiny or basically have the ball in our court. We have to take care of our own business, and we know what's at stake."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent