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Hossa healthy and playing Sunday, Kane getting close

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa will return to the Chicago Blackhawks' lineup Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but his Christmas wish may take a little longer.

Hossa officially was activated off injured reserve and will play against the Blue Jackets after missing 10 games with a leg injury following a late-November collision in practice with defenseman Nick Boynton. He's missed 15 games total this season, including an upper-body injury that derailed what had been an outstanding start to the season.

Getting back to that level of performance is his top priority now, and he made sure to put that at the top of his Christmas wish list.

"When Santa visited me, that's the one thing I asked for," Hossa said following Chicago's Sunday morning skate. "But it's not going to be so simple. I haven't played for one month, (but) that would be nice."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is getting his wishes fulfilled just by seeing more faces in practice. Forward Viktor Stalberg (upper-body injury) also will return to the lineup for the first time in three games. Forward Patrick Kane also skated with the team while continuing to work his way back from a lower-body injury that's kept him out for seven games.

Kane was placed on IR Sunday, which made room for goalie Hannu Toivonen, who was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League to replace rookie goalie Corey Crawford (illness).

Kane refused to put a target date on a possible return after doing that once before and not playing. Quenneville said Tuesday's game at St. Louis remains a possibility for Kane's return, with Monday's practice serving as a barometer.

"He's real close," Quenneville said. "I think he was entertaining (Sunday) as a possibility, but I think we're smart about it. We'll see how he does (Monday) and then we'll look at St. Louis as an option."

The decision won't have anything to do with Kane's conditioning, as he's worked hard off the ice trying to stay in shape. It will come down to how much pain he can handle while still being effective in games.

"It's more of a pain thing," Kane said. "It's a little bit tender, but overall it's a lot better than where I was at last week when I was trying to skate. It's one of those things that feels right when you walk on it, but you put it in a boot and it feels a little different."

With Hossa and Stalberg back and Kane getting close, Quenneville soon will face some tough lineup decisions. Newly-acquired center Ryan Johnson and Jordan Hendry likely will be healthy scratches Sunday despite both playing solidly during the team's current three-game winning streak.

After Kane returns, the fight for ice time will get even tougher.

"I think that can be healthy in a lot of ways," Quenneville said. "Sometimes competition and tough decisions are welcomed, and we do have some tough decisions to make when we're looking at putting the roster together."

Stalberg, who likely will be one of those fighting for playing time, understands the situation. Though he's seen time on the top line, he said increased competition to play at all might help him improve.

"I don't want to say you work harder in games, but you feel that pressure a little bit and I personally like it," he said. "I feel like you get a little bit more out of me when I feel that pressure. I've just got to keep working away and do everything I can to help the team out."

Crawford ill -- Goalie Corey Crawford did not practice with the Hawks on Sunday after being classified as "under the weather," by a team representative. Toivonen was called up from the AHL Rockford IceHogs and practiced in place of Crawford, while veteran Marty Turco prepared to get the start.

Turco hasn't started since allowing four goals on 10 shots Dec. 13 at Colorado, when he was pulled a minute into the second period. He's gotten just four starts in the past 15 games and is on a personal three-game losing streak.

"It's just one game," said Turco, who was told Saturday he would be starting. "It's always like that. The more that you think it's not, it could be detrimental. After a couple days off and not playing for a little while, (you) try to turn the brain off and get out there and do what I've done plenty before."

Jackets looking for a spark
-- The last time Columbus played the Hawks, the Blue Jackets left Chicago on Oct. 23 feeling good about themselves following a come-from-behind 3-2 win. They won four of their next five games and 10 of their next 15 before going on an extended down period that they're currently trying to break.

Sunday's game is another opportunity to turn things in the right direction for the Jackets -- who mulled over a stinging 7-3 home loss to Vancouver in their final pre-holiday break game.

"(That) was the kind of the game where it really leapfrogged us and got us confidence," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said of their previous win in Chicago. "We hadn't won in here in a few years and it really gave us a good shot of momentum and we (started) playing really well."

Christmas has nice ring for Kanes -- It wasn't really about the gifts he got this Christmas, but instead about the gifts Kane gave his family in Buffalo.

For his sisters he bought bracelets that were based on the Hawks' championship rings, while his father got a Stanley Cup ring just like the one the Hawks got for winning last spring. The only difference is the Hawks' rings have the series results that it took to win it engraved on the inside, while the one Kane got for his father has the inscription: "To Dad, love Pat."

The ring may also need to be resized if the elder Kane allows it.

"I might have ordered the ring a little bit tight, so he's putting it on his finger and he's like, 'No, no, it's good,' and his finger is just completely red here (at the tip)," Kane said. "But he's like, 'No, it's just something you've got to work in,' and I'm like, 'Dad, let's just go get it stretched. It's better for you.' He's like, 'It's getting better,' and it was just completely red."
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