BLACKHAWKS (19-8-1) at BRUINS (15-12-1)
TV: NHLN-US, SN360, TVA SPORTS 2, NESN, CSN-CH
BOSTON -- Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is expected to return to the lineup against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday at TD Garden.
Chara missed the past 19 games with a tear in his knee.
Coach Claude Julien was asked if a decision had been made about Chara's status.
"Not officially, but I'm counting on him," Julien said.
Chara has been the Bruins' leader in ice time since he arrived in Boston for the 2006-07 season. This season he averaged 21:41 and had two goals and one assist in nine games before he was injured against the New York Islanders on Oct. 23.
The Bruins were 11-7-1 without their captain. Despite faring well without Chara, the Bruins should not expect life will get that much easier with Chara back in the lineup.
"No, and I think it's my job to make sure that that doesn't happen," Julien said about the Bruins getting complacent. "We just have to look at the standings. We just have to look at our record to know that there's no reason to get comfortable here. If anything we've got to pick it up."
The Bruins head into play Thursday 15-12-1 and they're in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Although Chara is expected back, center David Krejci's status is less certain. Like Chara, Krejci practiced with the team the past two days. But when the Bruins morning skate was over, Krejci stayed out longer with the healthy scratches.
Krejci has missed the past eight games with an undisclosed injury.
Julien said there are teams that will be sad to see Chara back in the Bruins lineup. The Blackhawks weren't crying over the timing of their game with the Bruins, but they acknowledged the extra challenge the Bruins will present.
Chicago has won seven in a row.
"He can really make an impact on the game with his size and his presence and his defending ability and also may be a threat on the power play in front of the net," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He brings a lot to the table. Certainly that's something to consider when he's in the lineup, that you've got to be aware of him on the ice. And he's out there a lot."
Goaltender Scott Darling will make his third straight start. In winning his prior two starts, Darling had a .947 save percentage.
"Well, he's played well," Quenneville said. "You know we have back-to-back games coming. Every time he's been in the net, he's been consistent. He looks big and handles the puck well and we'll keep him going."
Here are the projected lineups:
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Patrick Sharp
Daniel Carcillo – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Johnny Oduya
Klas Dahlbeck – Michal Rozsival
Scratched: David Rundblad
Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (patella), Corey Crawford (lower body)
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Reilly Smith
Matt Fraser – Carl Soderberg – Seth Griffith
Matt Fraser – Chris Kelly – Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille – Gregory Campbell – Craig Cunningham
Zdeno Chara – Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg – Kevan Miller
Torey Krug – Zach Trotman
Scratched: Simon Gagne (personal leave of absence), Matt Bartkowski, Joe Morrow
Injured: David Krejci (undisclosed), Adam McQuaid (thumb)
Status update: Quenneville confirmed Dahlbeck will play for the third straight game. Hjalmarsson didn't skate, but will play against the Bruins. … Crawford skated and took shots with the Blackhawks. Quenneville, though, said Crawford would be a longshot to play over the weekend. Crawford last played Nov. 29. … Cunningham was called up from Providence of the American Hockey League to replace Gagne. But if Krejci plays, Cunningham might be a heathy scratch.
Who's hot: Hossa has three points in his past two games. Richards has gone two games without a point, but had three goals and six points in his prior four games. … Marchand and Smith each have two goals and two assists in the past two games.