Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov returned to practice Tuesday after missing the last 13 games of the regular season with a lower-leg injury and is ready to play without any limitations in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators.
‘‘I feel fine, and I’m happy to be back and skating with the team for the first time,’’ Anisimov said after the Hawks’ hearty practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. ‘‘I’m ready to play.’’
The Hawks thrived without Anisimov before coasting to the finish of the regular season. They were 6-2-2 and clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in their first 10 games after Anisimov suffered the injury March 14.
But the 6-4, 198-pound Anisimov, who tied a career high with 22 goals and set a career high with 45 points despite missing 18 games, becomes a more critical asset in the postseason. Not only are his size, net-front presence, role on special teams and faceoff proficiency of greater value, but he strengthens the Hawks down the middle.
With Tanner Kero moving from the second line to the fourth, the Hawks rotated these four lines at practice: Nick Schmaltz-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik; Artemi Panarin-Anisimov-Patrick Kane; Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa; and John Hayden-Kero-Jordin Tootoo.
‘‘We’ve always found ways to play well without some of our top guys, and we’ve done the same without [Anisimov],’’ Toews said. ‘‘But there’s no doubt we need to get guys back in the lineup like that. It gives you a kick. I think when we have our centermen healthy and playing well, it makes our four lines a lot deeper and a lot better.’’
Anisimov will be playing for the first time in 30 days when the Hawks face the Predators on Thursday at the United Center. But he said the rest trumps the rust. And he said he feels better physically coming off the injury than he did in the playoffs last season, when he played through a wrist injury that ultimately required surgery.
‘‘The staff did a tremendous job with conditioning for me, and I’m ready to play,’’ Anisimov said. ‘‘The rest is the most important thing at this point of the season.’’
NOTE: Forward Andrew Desjardins and defenseman Michal Rozsival were the only players to miss practice.
Desjardins is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Rozsival had surgery to repair facial fractures suffered when he was punched by the Anaheim Ducks’ Nick Ritchie last week. There is no timetable for his return.
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