Jason Brough

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov, of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP

Blackhawks expecting to be healthy for playoffs

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CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Blackhawks think they will be at full strength when the NHL playoffs start next week.

Right now, not so much.

The defending Stanley Cup champions will be without goaltender Corey Crawford and forwards Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw when they take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Crawford, Anisimov and Shaw are out with upper-body injuries, and Hossa is making his way back from a lower-body injury. Crawford and Hossa participated in Chicago’s morning skate, and it looks as if Crawford will return for Saturday’s season finale at Columbus for his first game since a 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 14.

“We got him targeted for Saturday,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

The 37-year-old Hossa, just one shy of 500 career goals, got hurt during Sunday’s 6-4 win against Boston. He skated for about 20 minutes by himself before Thursday’s morning skate and felt good enough to join his teammates for practice. He also could return against the Blue Jackets, but sounded as if he wanted to be cautious.

“If it is meant to be and I feel great in a couple days, I’ll play,” he said. “If not, you know the health is more important at this time of the year.”

Anisimov left in the second period of Chicago’s 6-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night after taking a big hit. Anisimov, who has 20 goals and 22 assists in his first season with Chicago, centers the Blackhawks’ potent second line with rookie Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane on the wings.

“He is fine,” Quenneville said. “He is out today, and I’m going to say questionable and doubtful for Saturday, but he’ll be fine.”

Shaw is expected to return for the start of the playoffs. He got hurt during Friday’s 5-4 overtime win at Winnipeg.

The Blues have their own injury issues. Goaltender Jake Allen and forward David Backes are out with lower-body injuries, but could return for the start of the playoffs. Center Steve Ott had hamstring surgery in December, and then was diagnosed with colitis. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and rookie forward Robby Fabbri also have been hurt, but could return against Chicago.

While Anisimov and Shaw missed the morning skate, Bryan Bickell rejoined the team after he was promoted from Rockford of the AHL on Wednesday. The 30-year-old Bickell spent much of this season with the IceHogs after helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup last year. The rugged winger, who signed a $16 million, four-year deal in 2013, has 20 goals and 19 assists in 75 career playoff games.

“We know at this time of the year his play seems to rise to the challenge of playing important games,” Quenneville said, “and he brings an element that he’s got all the tools to help our team.”

Related: Duncan Keith to miss first game of playoffs due to suspension

 

Ennis has ‘great day’ at Sabres practice, but admits concussion scared him

Tyler Ennis
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It’s a scary thing to have a concussion — especially these days with all we’ve learned about the devastating long-term effects that concussions can have.

Sabres forward Tyler Ennis can tell you all about the fear. He sustained a concussion Dec. 30 on a hit by Alex Ovechkin.

“It’s a really difficult thing,” Ennis told the Buffalo News today after practicing with his Sabres teammates for the first time in months.

“I went through a lot of different emotions, a lot of ups and downs, so yeah, there’s really bad days. There’s days where you feel great and there’s days where it’s tough. To say I wasn’t scared at some point would be probably a lie, but I feel so good right now. I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Ennis hasn’t been cleared for contact, and he reportedly won’t play in the Sabres’ final two games of the season.

But today?

“Today was a great day,” he said.

‘As of today,’ Benning sees Desjardins returning as Canucks coach

Jim Benning, Willie Desjardins, Trevor Linden
AP
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About a month ago, Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden confirmed a report that head coach Willie Desjardins would be back next season.

In doing so, Linden praised Desjardins for his work with Vancouver’s young players and said “there’s no reason for us to consider a change.”

The Canucks were struggling at the time, but they’ve really struggled since, with just three wins in their last 13. They got thumped, 6-2, last night in Edmonton, one of the more embarrassing losses of the campaign.

And so, today, GM Jim Benning was asked again about Desjardins.

Specifically, he was asked if there was any doubt in his mind that Desjardins would be the coach at training camp.

“Well, as of today, no,” Benning told TSN 1040 radio (audio).

It was an interesting way of putting it, since he could’ve just said “no.”

Instead, he prefaced it with “as of today.”

That has many wondering if the Canucks are going to wait and see how things shake out elsewhere around the league. For example, what if the Bruins miss the playoffs and fire Claude Julien — would the Canucks take a run at him? What if the Blues have another early exit — would Ken Hitchcock become available?

It’s all speculation, but to steal Benning’s phrase, as of today, one of the main arguments for keeping Desjardins is the lack of outstanding candidates to replace him.

And that could change soon, depending what happens elsewhere.

Backstrom feels ‘100 percent,’ will return for Caps tonight

Nicklas Backstrom
AP
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Washington Capitals fans can breathe a sigh of relief today after learning Nicklas Backstrom is healthy enough to play tonight versus Pittsburgh.

Backstrom has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury.

“He’s one of the best centermen in the National Hockey League,” Caps coach Barry Trotz told reporters, per CSN Washington. “Getting him back gives us a little more depth, a few more options and a real good player back in.”

Backstrom is expected to center Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, with a second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.

The 1-2 combination of Backstrom and Kuznetsov is a big reason the Caps have been so successful during the regular season, so having a healthy Backstrom heading into arguably the most important postseason in franchise history is rather important.

“I feel like I’m 100 percent,” Backstrom said, per the Washington Post. “I think it’s important, too, that you feel good before you come back because we’ve clinched a playoff spot already, so there’s no need to rush back, I think. But at the same time, you want to play a couple games before.”

Kings to play two preseason games at new Vegas arena

In this March 28, 2016, photo, workers finish construction outside of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The latest multi-million dollar development on the Las Vegas Strip features a leafy outdoor pedestrian area, 20,000 seat arena and small theater. The arena is scheduled to open April 6. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The Los Angeles Kings will play two preseason games in Las Vegas at the recently opened T-Mobile Arena. They’ll host the Stars on Friday, Oct. 7, and the Avalanche the next day.

The Kings have already played numerous preseason games in Las Vegas as part of their Frozen Fury series, but those games were held at the MGM Grand.

“We are excited to be featured in one of the very first sporting events at the new T-Mobile Arena and we look forward to creating new Frozen Fury memories there,” said the Kings’ president of business operations, Luc Robitaille, in a release.

T-Mobile Arena is, of course, the potential future home of a Las Vegas expansion team. Its construction was a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and AEG, the latter of which owns the Kings.

Related: Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas