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Hurricanes' Ruutu just happy to be playing

by Kurt Dusterberg /

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Rehabbing an injury never is an enjoyable process for a professional athlete. Carolina Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu has been waging that battle for quite a while.

Two hip surgeries in the past calendar year were bad enough. Then came a leg injury in the preseason that kept him out of the lineup until a game Sunday against the Phoenix Coyotes, in which he logged 10:28 of ice time.

"Every time you come off an injury, at least from my point of view, the other guys are always going left and right," Ruutu said. "The game speed is so different from practice or if you're skating by yourself. But once you get that first hit and that first shot, you stop thinking about it and start playing."

He will need to get into that zone quickly Tuesday when the Hurricanes face the Chicago Blackhawks. After starting on the fourth line against the Coyotes, he will join Eric Staal and Alexander Semin on Carolina's top line.

Ruutu said he's happy to get an early chance to provide a spark on a scoring line, but it's not hard to detect his relief at getting past the long hours of rehab.

"It's not the worst thing in life, but it's tough mentally," he said. "You need good doctors and a good physical therapist and a good work ethic. But most of all you need family around to support you. As hard as it is physically, it's way harder mentally."

That's why Ruutu was smiling so much after the morning skate. It wasn't so much the promise of more ice time or playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions that made this day so promising. It was the simple joy of playing hockey.

"Once you get out there and start playing, you forget everything," Ruutu said. "In the first game, even the first practice, I get the first goal, I have a little grin on my face. That's how you know you love the game a lot."

Here are the projected lineups the teams will use Tuesday:


Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp - Michal Handzus - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Andrew Shaw - Joakim Nordstrom

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Nikolai Khabibulin

Scratched: Michael Kostka, Sheldon Brookbank, Brandon Pirri


Tuomo Ruutu - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin

Jiri Tlusty - Jordan Staal - Nathan Gerbe

Jeff Skinner - Riley Nash - Patrick Dwyer

Drayson Bowman - Brett Sutter - Radek Dvorak

Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk

Brett Bellemore - Ron Hainsey

Jay Harrison - Ryan Murphy

Cam Ward

Justin Peters

Scratched: Kevin Westgarth, Mike Komisarek

Injured: Anton Khudobin (lower body), Tim Gleason (concussion), Elias Lindholm (upper body)

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