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Blackhawks' Hjalmarsson ready to go for Game 3

by Shawn Roarke

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is good to go in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Minnesota Wild. He just can't talk about it.

Hjalmarsson was struck by a shot in the throat area during Game 2 on Sunday but never missed a shift. Tuesday, he took part in the morning skate wearing a throat guard, and he will play in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS2).

"He's not allowed to speak right now, but he is ready to go," coach Joel Quenneville said.

That is good news for the Blackhawks, who rely heavily on Hjalmarsson. He plays the second-most minutes behind defenseman Duncan Keith, averaging 25:45 per game in a shutdown role. Hjalmarsson has three shots on net in eight games and has blocked an NHL-best 30, almost twice as many as the next-highest total on the Blackhawks, 16 by Keith.

"He's a tough character," defenseman Johnny Oduya said. "He's a Swedish Viking. He's one of a kind, obviously. It's good for morale. We know he's always out there doing his job. I was more worried he got hit in the eye or something like that. I didn't see what happened. But obviously he boosts morale for the team."

Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.

Quenneville said he does not believe Hjalmarsson's inability to verbally communicate will impact the way he performs very much.

"Obviously, you like to talk, either the goalie playing it or your partner, whether he's got an out or you are the out," Quenneville said. "Sometimes that can be beneficial. We always say communicate on the bench, make sure we are talking as well. I think we are familiar with him and he is familiar with the players around him. We'll see, he's pretty aware of how he has to play the game. Maybe he'll have to adapt a little bit, but we didn't expect him to change too much."

With Hjalmarsson able to play, Quenneville does not have to make any changes to his defensive pairings, but he is mulling one change to his forward lines. Brandon Bollig and Kris Versteeg each saw time on the left side of the fourth line during the morning skate, joining center Michal Handzus and right wing Jeremy Morin.

"We'll see," Quenneville said when asked about potential changes. "We have a couple of decisions."

Versteeg was scratched for Game 6 of the first-round series against the St. Louis Blues and Game 1 against the Wild. He returned Sunday and did not register a point, going minus-1, in less than nine minutes of ice time. Bollig was scratched for Game 2 against the Wild. Morin could be scratched to get both Bollig and Versteeg back into the mix.

Here are the projected lineups:


Patrick Sharp - Ben Smith - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Marcus Kruger - Joakim Nordstrom

Kris Versteeg/Brandon Bollig - Michal Handzus - Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Sheldon Brookbank, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Klas Dahlbeck

Injured: Andrew Shaw (lower body)


Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Matt Moulson - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Cody McCormick

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner - Keith Ballard

Ilya Bryzgalov

John Curry

Scratched: Nate Prosser, Jonathon Blum, Stephane Veilleux, Mike Rupp, Carson McMillan, Jake Dowell

Injured: Jason Zucker (quad), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery), Darcy Kuemper (upper body)

Suspended: Matt Cooke (eligible to return for Game 4)

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