Marian Hossa’s timing couldn’t be much better. If you’re going to get injured, you might as well get injured late in the season so you can be rested and refreshed for the playoff push. And if you’re going to return to the lineup, you might as well return for the most significant road trip of the regular season.
The Blackhawks this week visit the St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars — the two teams they’re fighting with for the Central Division title and home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. And they’ll be as close to full strength as they’ve been all season when they do, as Hossa is expected to play Wednesday against the Blues.
Oh, and their moms will be there to watch them.
“A big two games on the road, and [it’s the] moms trip,” Hossa said Tuesday after joining his teammates at practice for the first time since Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm hip-checked him out of the game and out of the lineup on Feb. 13. “Couldn’t have timed it better.”
Marcus Kruger’s return is still likely a couple of weeks away, but the Hawks will step on the ice at Scottrade Center with a nearly complete arsenal at forward, with a top line of Andrew Ladd, Jonathan Toews and Hossa, and with Andrew Shaw and trade-deadline reinforcements Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise bolstering the bottom six.
The taut division race has put a little bit of urgency into mid-March, and the Hawks have welcomed it.
“We always say we don’t want to be playing Game 82 [as if it’s] life-or-death to get in, but if we’re fighting for first place, we’d like to get first place,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It keeps our attention in the right place. It’s a very meaningful road trip, two important games against two important teams as far as where we’re sitting. Big four-point swings.”
Hossa’s return should help balance out the Hawks lines, and finally give some stability on the top line, which has seen Toews flanked by various wingers throughout the season. That line’s possession and production numbers have dipped as a result of that inconsistency. But with three big, elite two-way forwards now up top, the Hawks lineup suddenly looks awfully formidable again.
“Those two guys are great leaders,” Hossa said of Ladd and Toews. “They lift our team even more, make it stronger. I’m looking forward to playing with those two. Hopefully we click, hopefully we find chemistry, and we can be the dominant line we want to be.”
Said Ladd: “Anytime you get a player like that back, it’s a big boost to the group. So hopefully, him, me and Jonny can find some chemistry and get things going pretty quick.”
Hossa played all 82 games last season, and then all 23 playoff games. So even at age 37, the last thing he wanted was time off. But the leg injury afforded him a rare chance to recharge for the postseason. And after seeing what Patrick Kane did in the playoffs last season after missing the final seven weeks of the season, Hossa — who is just four goals shy of 500 for his career — expects to come back with a hop in his step.
“You don’t want to get hurt, but if you do, you try to take advantage of it,” Hossa said. “And hopefully, that’s going to be an advantage.”