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Brad Richards expected to return for Blackhawks

Brad Richards will be back for Monday night’s game against the Nashville Predators. Patrick Sharp won’t be in the Hawks’ top six.

Richards missed the Hawks’ last three games with an upper-body injury but Joel Quenneville said he’ll play in the Hawks’ last game of 2014. And based on the line-rushes used during Sunday’s practice, Richards will be reunited with Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg on the PB&K line.

“There was nothing alarming about not playing last night. It just made more sense to get today and tomorrow back under my feet and be with the guys in a team setting,” Richards said. “Just the way the break worked out, we used it for (our) advantage.”

The Blackhawks’ depth is also an advantage, and for now Sharp isn’t on one of the Hawks’ top two lines. He skated on the left of a line with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, with Quenneville preferring not to break up the successful top six.

“(Richards) coming back, that line was very effective for a stretch when we were winning games [on the circus trip],” Quenneville said. “(Jonathan Toews’) line is going fine. I think that line, they get quality ice time and get some big assignments as well.”

Quenneville said “we’ll see” when asked whether Michal Rozsival (lower body) would return Monday.

PRAISE YOU

The Hawks’ dressing room was still buzzing with praise of Brent Seabrook after his performance Saturday in Colorado. Not only did he score the go-ahead goal, he caught speedy Matt Duchene from behind, drew a penalty that led to a power-play goal and also helped kill a 5-on-3 Avs advantage.

In all, Quenneville is more than pleased with what Seabrook’s doing.

“I think he’s got a better gap, I think his stick has been more efficient. I think he’s broken up two-on-ones in the last four or five games, at least half-a-dozen to 10 of them,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a quicker stick, pucks aren’t going through him or past him and I just think he’s aware of his positioning.”

That doesn’t mean Seabrook always gets the same appreciation outside the Hawks that he does from his teammates and coaches, especially since he’s usually paired with two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

“Playing against the Blackhawks you don’t ever under-appreciate any of them. When you’re in the league you know how good each and every one of them are,” Richards said. “Probably the same case of anybody that’s been around a good team for a while – you get spoiled night in and night out watching some of the performances. You don’t realize how special it is to have a player like (Seabrook) on the team.”

NOT LOOKING AHEAD

With the Winter Classic four days away, it would be understandable if the Hawks were looking ahead to their Jan. 1 date with the Washington Capitals. The novelty of the Winter Classic might be wearing off a tad but it’s still the most prominent game of the regular season.

But to Quenneville it’s not the biggest. Monday night’s game against second-place Nashville takes that label, and also keeps the Hawks’ minds from drifting to New Year’s Day and the Caps.

“I think there could have been but I don’t think so now, knowing that it’s our biggest game of the year,” Quenneville said. “First place at stake, last time we see them, so I think that’s the mindset. We can’t look past tomorrow.”

Andrew Shaw echoed that.

“I think we’re trying to focus on day in, day out with our next game,” Shaw said. “After Nashville we can kind of get excited for the outdoor game.”