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Blackhawks healthy and raring to go as playoffs begin

Marian Hossa hasn't played since leaving the April 3 game against Boston early with a leg injury. (AP Photo)

The Blackhawks were one of the healthiest teams all season until a late spate of injuries contributed to their wobbly finish. But when the puck drops for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday night in St. Louis, the Hawks won’t have a single unhealthy scratch.

Duncan Keith, serving the last game of his suspension, will miss Game 1. Other than that, the Hawks are at full strength as the playoffs begin. Marian Hossa (leg), Artem Anisimov (upper body) and Andrew Shaw (upper body) will all be in the lineup for Game 1. Corey Crawford, who missed more than three weeks with a head injury before returning to the net in Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss, looked better than he has all month in Monday’s practice, according to Joel Quenneville. And defenseman Viktor Svedberg, who left Saturday’s season finale early with a lower-body injury, will be ready to go, too.

Shaw had missed the last four games, Hossa the last three, and Anisimov the last two. They hope the forced time off can work to their advantage as they prepare for up to two grueling months of playoff hockey.

“I feel great, energized,” Shaw said. “Ready to get this started.”

There was plenty of energy at Monday’s practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West, and in the dressing room afterward. Even for a team that’s played 11 series in the past three years, there’s nothing like the postseason.

“This is what you play for,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “You can never, ever take getting into the playoffs for granted. You never know when you’re going to play your next playoff game. You can get traded, or your team might miss the playoffs. You never know if you’ll ever be in the playoffs again. That’s how you have to think about that. Think about [how] this might be the last time I’ll be in the playoffs.”

Even Quenneville, a veteran of 204 playoff games as a coach and 32 more as a player, admits to nerves.

“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s a long time between getting a chance to try to win a Cup and then trying to get back to the playoffs. But I always find that this is an exciting time of the year, and you’re thinking, ‘OK. Here we go.’ I’m excited about it. I get nervous for Game 1, like I do first game of the season. And then we get going again. But looking forward to it.” 

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus