Canes think Tuomo Ruutu (hip) is ahead of schedule

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The Carolina Hurricanes seemed resigned to say goodbye to Tuomo Ruutu for at least the regular season after he underwent hip surgery. They might be able to welcome him back into the lineup sooner than that.

Ruutu could rapidly approach a return if doctors clear him on March 15, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

Head coach Kirk Muller believes Ruutu, 30, is in good condition despite being out of action.

“Hopefully by next week we get the green light from him,” Muller said. “I think it will start off as team practices, then physical contact. He’s a guy who has kept himself in pretty good shape. I think once it starts, as far as practices, I don’t think he’s too far off.

“If he feels good, you could see him being ready to get in the lineup. I don’t know how long it will take but I don’t think it will take too long.”

That’s vague, but it sounds like he has a solid shot to beat those early prognostications by a healthy margin if that doctor’s visit goes well.

Ruutu is a solid scorer (18 goals, 34 points last season; 57 points in 2010-11), but the physical edge he brings to the table could really be a difference-maker for Carolina.