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Blackhawks' Crawford hopes to return this week

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are close to getting their top goalie back.

Corey Crawford, who has missed nine straight games with a lower-body injury that's reportedly a groin issue, said he felt "great" after participating in the Blackhawks' morning skate Monday at United Center.

Crawford won't dress Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), but is set to make his return during a pending two-game road trip to play back-to-back at the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils on Thursday and Friday.

"I feel great," said Crawford, who skated in a team workout for the first time since leaving the lineup Dec. 8 at home against the Florida Panthers. "After the Christmas break everything's gone well. I haven't felt the injury at all on the ice, so I'm ready to go."

Crawford said the team didn't want to take any risks in bringing him back too soon, especially with rookie Antti Raanta playing solidly in his place.

"It felt pretty long when I was out," Crawford said. "I was getting pretty bored there for a bit. It's nice to be back on the ice with the guys. It was maybe a little bit longer than I wanted, but we wanted to be on the cautious side too, and not re-injure it and be out even longer."

The Blackhawks also have veteran backup Nikolai Khabibulin on long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury, which means Raanta might stick around once Crawford returns. Veteran Jason LaBarbera is also on the roster, so one of them will get sent back to Rockford of the American Hockey League if the Blackhawks don't opt to carry three goalies.

"I think he earned the opportunity to be around and we'll see how it all plays out," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of Raanta, who's gone 9-1-3 in his 14 outings. "When we get Corey back we'll be making that decision then, but certainly we like what we've seen."

Right wing Patrick Sharp spoke with reporters about being named the NHL's First Star of the Week for the first time in his career, after scoring six goals with one assist in three games.

"It's the first time I've been the first star of the week," Sharp said. "A couple weeks ago I was mentioned in the three stars again, so it's kind of cool to be recognized like that. We've got a lot of guys in our locker room who could be recognized individually, and when the team's playing well that's when all that stuff comes along with it."

The Kings also skated at United Center and it appears they will dress seven defensemen for the second straight game, after losing 3-2 against the Nashville Predators this past Saturday to start a tough four-game road trip that includes stops in Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis before returning to Staples Center for a six-game home stretch.

Sutter didn't announce his starting goalie, but the consensus opinion among L.A. media is that Martin Jones will get the net after Ben Scrivens gave him a night off in Nashville.

Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Kings on Monday night:


Dwight King - Anze Kopitar - Jeff Carter

Dustin Brown - Mike Richards - Justin Williams

Trevor Lewis - Jarret Stoll - Tyler Toffoli

Daniel Carcillo - Colin Fraser

Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty

Robyn Regehr - Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Willie Mitchell

Martin Jones

Ben Scrivens

Scratched: Matt Frattin, Jordan Nolan, Linden Vey

Injured: Jonathan Quick (groin)


Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg - Michal Handzus - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell- Andrew Shaw - Brandon Saad

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy -- Michal Rozsival

Antti Raanta

Jason LaBarbera

Scratched: Sheldon Brookbank, Michael Kostka

Injured: Corey Crawford (groin), Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body)

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