Defenseman Erik Johnson, who hasn't played since Feb. 11, will return to the Colorado Avalanche lineup Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
Johnson, who missed 11 games with a head injury sustained during that Feb. 11 game against the Phoenix Coyotes, had been skating and traveling with the team for the past 10 days, appearing on the ice in an orange non-contact jersey.
Friday morning, coach Joe Sacco announced that the 24-year-old would be back in the lineup.
"We're excited to have EJ back in the lineup," Sacco said. "Big-body guy for us back there. Puck-moving guy who can get up in the play for us. As far as expectations go for EJ tonight, just play hard, keep it simple. Don't try to do too much right away."
The Avalanche went 5-4-2 in Johnson's absence and enter the game 14th in the Western Conference. With their top blueliner back, the team is hoping to work its way up the standings as the Stanley Cup Playoff push slowly approaches. In order to do that, they'll have to beat the hottest team in the NHL -- the Blackhawks come into Pepsi Center with a League-best 21-0-3 record.
"Bottom line, we need to get points," said Johnson, who had one assist in 11 games prior to his injury. "We know they're on a great streak and they're a great team. But these points are really important to us right now. We're fighting for our lives right now and everything counts. It's a big game for us. It's a big game for them, obviously. They want to continue their streak."
With Johnson back in the lineup, Tyson Barrie will be a healthy scratch.