Marcus Kruger skates, close to returning to Blackhawks

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Marcus Kruger is close to returning, but it might be on the fourth line. | AP

Marcus Kruger is coming back soon, and he’s fine with any spot in the lineup.

Kruger, who has been out since injuring his right hand Dec. 30, practiced with his teammates before the game Sunday against the Canucks. He didn’t play but could return Tuesday or Thursday.

“Obviously getting [him] out here with everybody is a good step,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll see how he is for Tuesday or Thursday, knowing that we’ve got that [All-Star] break. We’ll see how he feels and what our options are.”

Kruger said the last hurdle he needs to clear before returning is dealing with contact, though he thinks he’s pretty close. But he might not have the same spot in the lineup because of Tanner Kero’s emergence centering the third line.

Quenneville complimented Kero’s positioning and noted his consistency, which is high praise for a young player. And Kero could remain on the third line when Kruger returns.

“I don’t see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself,” Quenneville said.

That would push Kruger to his familiar fourth line, not that he minds.

“Whatever role they put me, I just want to get back in and help the team in every way I can,” Kruger said.

Waning rivalry?

There’s still something left in the Hawks-Canucks rivalry. Well, at least Patrick Kane thinks so.

From 2009 to 2011, the teams always faced each other in the postseason. There haven’t been any playoff meetings since, and the teams have gone in opposite directions. Kane, who was a central figure in the feud when it was at its hottest, noted the continued presence of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alexandre Burrows as something keeping the rivalry alive.

Now the rivalry has taken on a different tone.

“It’s turned into more of a respect rivalry, I guess, where you’re proud of the rivalry you had against them and know there are players over there that you went to battle with,” Kane said.

No big deal

On Feb. 4, in an effort to increase scoring, the NHL will force goalies to use slimmer pants. Unlike some netminders, Scott Darling won’t use them until he has to and doesn’t think the change is a big deal.

“I think it’s a big waste of time and money,” Darling said.

Kane doesn’t think it’ll matter much, either.

“You get that split-second to shoot at the net, you’re not going to notice any difference with the pants,” Kane said. “Nothing I’ve noticed yet.”

In brief

The game against Vancouver was the Hawks’ 400th consecutive United Center sellout, a run that began March 30, 2008, and includes 338 regular-season games and 62 postseason games. Colorado’s 487 consecutive sellouts from 1995 to 2006 are a league record.

Jeremy Roenick was honored with “One More Shift.” He was the third former Hawk to take part, joining Denis Savard and Steve Larmer.

Michal Rozsival and Jordin Tootoo were scratched.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.

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