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Toews' return uncertain after possible setback

by Brian Hedger

Just when it was starting to look like Jonathan Toews might be getting ready to return, the Chicago Blackhawks captain could be dealing with a setback in his recovery from an upper-body injury, which has been widely speculated to be a concussion.

Toews, who didn't practice Thursday and only briefly got on the ice Wednesday, had skated hard four days in a row after an extended absence from on-ice work. He then started this week by not skating for two straight days, including a morning skate Tuesday at United Center in preparation for a 4-3 shootout win later that night against the St. Louis Blues.

Last weekend, Toews was hopeful about playing against St. Louis, but heading into this weekend his return is again cloudy. He won't make the trip to play the Dallas Stars on Friday, which will run his games-missed total to 12.


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"Whether it's a setback or a part of the process, that's what we're dealing with," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a concern. You miss a guy like that and look forward to having him back at some point, but at the same time you look forward and take care of what we can control ... and that's our next game."

Does Quenneville feel like Toews will return before the end of the regular season, which only has 11 games left for the Hawks?

"Well, let's hope so," he said. "That'd be great. We were hoping he'd be back earlier than this, but part of it is you've just got to deal with it -- as an individual and us -- and be optimistic that he'll be around and go from there."

Chicago is 6-4-1 in the current 11-game run without Toews. They also lost the other game Toews missed this season.

"That points to the kind of character and makeup that we have," veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "Every team goes through this. You hope it's not your best guy, your most complete guy, but that's the way it is right now. We have to be ready with the 20 guys in here, whether Johnny's back next game or Johnny's back in the playoffs or who knows [when]. He's a great player, but we can still have success without him."

Still, they could certainly use Toews' multitude of skills in all facets of the game, which is why Quenneville isn't ready to give up on his return date.

"We're very hopeful that he's going to be on the ice here and going to be playing soon," Quenneville said. "It's part of the process we're talking about, as well."

In other Blackhawks injury news, defenseman Steve Montador said he's not quite ready to return from what's believed to be a concussion, while defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper-body injury) is making the trip to Dallas but is questionable to play with an injury that prevented him from finishing the game Tuesday.

Hjalmarsson had just come off missing 13 of 14 games from another upper-body injury, but Quenneville indicated Thursday that this injury is not related to that one. If Hjalmarsson can't go, look for O'Donnell to re-enter the lineup.

"Whether it's a setback or a part of the process, that's what we're dealing with. It's a concern. You miss a guy like that and look forward to having him back at some point, but at the same time you look forward and take care of what we can control ... and that's our next game." -- Chicago Blackhawks' coach
Joel Quenneville on Jonathan Toews

Goalie Ray Emery missed practice Thursday while sick, which meant equipment man Jim Heintzelman filled in while wearing Emery's practice jersey. Emery, who won't start either way, is also questionable to be on the active roster for Friday's game -- a decision that will be determined later.

Corey Crawford will get his first start in six games after relieving Emery to start the second period Tuesday and not allowing a single goal through two periods, plus overtime and a shootout.

"It was nice to get into one and especially a comeback win like that," Crawford said. "The shootout, I can definitely feed off that. I've just got to be better prepared for every game and try to bring this momentum into the playoffs."

Crawford signed a contract extension last summer with the thought that he'd be the Hawks' unquestioned starter, but after starting out that way,  some tough stretches caused Quenneville to alternate between Crawford and Emery. Now, the Hawks are hoping the victory against St. Louis kick starts Crawford's top play again, as a turbulent second full NHL season winds down for him.

"Getting a win in that type of environment was big for him," Quenneville said. "He did what he had to do. We had confidence at one point he could get the net back ... and here we are."
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