Jason Brough

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Blackhawks getting Hjalmarsson back for stretch run

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CHICAGO (AP) Niklas Hjalmarsson loves playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. He doesn’t like watching their games very much.

The 29-year-old Hjalmarsson is skating again and is expected to return Thursday night against Anaheim, giving Chicago a boost as it tries to chase down Minnesota for the Central Division title and top spot in the Western Conference. The durable defenseman has been sidelined for four straight games with an upper-body injury after missing a total of two games in the previous three seasons. He was activated by the team Wednesday.

“It was a long time ago I missed this many games in a row,” he said. “I don’t like watching the games. When you’re not playing you kind of feel like you should be out there.”

Hjalmarsson is one of several NHL players coming back from injuries who could affect the playoff races down the stretch. Washington forward Andre Burakovsky could return this month after being sidelined by a right hand injury. Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who had knee surgery in mid-November, is skating and doing hockey drills, but the team hasn’t said whether he’ll attempt to play again this season.

Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and Philadelphia forward Travis Konecny recently returned to the ice, giving their respective teams a lift as they fight for playoff positioning.

“It’s going to take some time and I’m not going to be frustrated right away when I’m not getting things going my way,” said Konecny, who had a goal and an assist in Tuesday night’s 6-3 win at Buffalo in his second game back after being sidelined by a leg injury. “But I need to slowly get back into things. It’s going to take a little bit, but it’s just good to be back on the ice.”

Overshadowed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook among Chicago’s defensemen, Hjalmarsson remains a key part of the team’s chances for a fourth Stanley Cup title since 2010. He has a career-high five goals in 60 games and ranks among the league leaders with 156 blocked shots.

Chicago (42-18-5) has won seven straight and 12 of 13, prompting Hjalmarsson to wonder aloud if there would be room for him against the Ducks. But it’s clear coach Joel Quenneville is looking forward to his return, and the rest just might help Hjalmarsson with the Blackhawks facing a busy schedule for the last part of the regular season.

“He gets beat up a little bit, but you never see him or hear him complain, and he finds a way to fight through it all,” Quenneville said. “This one kept him off the ice for a little bit, but let’s make sure that he’s more than ready to come back. But you know you always got his competitiveness down the stretch.”

Chicago also could get another Swedish defenseman back against the Ducks, with Johnny Oduya on track for a reunion with Hjalmarsson after they played together in the Blackhawks’ run to the 2015 NHL title. Oduya, who was reacquired in a trade with Dallas on Feb. 28, has been resting an ankle injury.

“The guys that played with him here when he was here the last time, I think all of us got super excited,” Hjalmarsson said of the Oduya trade. “We know what kind of guy he is and we know what type of game he brings the team.”

Pre-game reading: T.J. Oshie picked a good year for a career year

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— Up top, T.J. Oshie leads off the “Goals of the Week” with a beauty backhander against the Stars.

— Speaking of Oshie, he’s on the verge of setting a career high for goals in a season. He has 25 now. Two more and he’ll break the mark he set last season with 26. And did we mention he’s a pending unrestricted free agent? “Some players have career years on those years,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Some players wilt under that pressure. He’s real focused. He’s having an exceptional year.” (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

— The latest news on the NHL and the Olympics is that there’s, well, no news. According to commissioner Gary Bettman, “There’s absolutely nothing new. I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season, and there’s somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.” Don’t lose all hope, though. There’s still time to make a deal, and these things usually go right down to the wire. (NHL.com)

— A profile of Gabe Vilardi, who could be the third center drafted this summer after Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. Vilardi, 17, has 28 goals and 31 assists in 43 games for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. His 59 points are tops on his team. (The Hockey News)

— The Chicago Blackhawks do a great job staying out of the penalty box. In fact, as noted by Mark Lazerus of the Sun-Times: “With 196 penalties in 65 games, the Hawks are 29th out of 30 teams. In fact, they’ve been 27th, 28th or 29th in the league in penalties for eight consecutive years, dating back to the 2009-10 season, when they won their first Stanley Cup of the modern era.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— How would changing the NHL’s points system — say, to three points for a regulation win — change the way games are coached? That’s what Postmedia’s Michael Traikos tried to find out this week during the general managers meetings in Florida. Devils GM Ray Shero had some interesting thoughts on the subject. (National Post)

Enjoy the games!

‘Glaring’ mistakes led to latest Panthers loss

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The Florida Panthers are running out of time.

After last night’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers at BB&T Center, the Panthers have just 17 games left to leapfrog the Lightning, Flyers, Maple Leafs, and Islanders and grab the second wild-card spot in the East.

Since sweeping a five-game road trip, it’s been a tremendously disappointing stretch for the Panthers. They have just one win in their last seven, and six of those games were at home.

Last night, they were the rested team, hosting a Rangers side that had played the night before in Tampa. But it was the visitors who struck with two goals in the first period. After that, the Panthers were chasing, and they never could catch up.

“We’re still a young team trying to learn how to win and then play against real good competition,” said interim coach Tom Rowe, per the Sun-Sentinel.

“Our defensive mistakes were glaring and they capitalized on them. We got great chances, which we definitely did, but their goaltender came up with great saves when he had to.”

It’s estimated that the Panthers will need to go around 11-4-2 to give themselves a good shot of making the playoffs.

That’s doable for this group, but it’s not likely.

Jannik Hansen practices on Sharks’ top line

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Jannik Hansen is starting right at the top.

At today’s Sharks practice, the speedy winger, acquired last week in a trade with the Canucks, was skating on San Jose’s top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Mikkel Boedker comprised the second line. Then came the trio of Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, and Melker Karlsson. And finally, on the fourth line, it was Marcus Sorensen, Chris Tierney, and Joel Ward.

That Hansen is starting on the top line should come as no surprise. The 30-year-old spent time in Vancouver with the Sedin twins on the Canucks’ top line. And if it’s not a fit with Thornton and Pavelski in San Jose, Hansen has the versatility to play further down the lineup.

Hansen is expected to make his San Jose debut tomorrow against the visiting Washington Capitals.

The Sharks also assigned forward Kevin Labanc to the AHL today.

Related: Hansen adds more speed to Sharks, who were already faster

Riley Sheahan could really use his first goal tonight

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Detroit’s Riley Sheahan can set a dubious mark tonight against the Boston Bruins.

If Sheahan registers two shots and doesn’t score, he’ll hold the record for most shots in a season by a forward without scoring a goal.

The NHL first started tracking individual shot totals in 1967-68, the first season after the league expanded from the Original Six.

The good news for Sheahan? The Red Wings still have 18 games left for him to score. Even if he sets the mark tonight, if he can just pot one before season’s end, he’s off the list, and the “honor” goes back to Craig Adams.

h/t to Brock Seguin for pointing this out