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Joakim Nordstrom eager to pick up where he left off before injury

Joakim Nordstrom’s impending return to the Blackhawks’ lineup took a back seat to just about everything Tuesday — Patrick Kane’s impending return; the absence of veterans Brad Richards and Kimmo Timonen; even the NHL debut of rookie forward Kyle Baun.

But even in the shadows he’s accustomed to on a deep championship contending team, the soft-spoken Nordstrom carried a heavier responsibility when he returned after missing six games with an upper-body injury than when he left: Not only upgrading the Hawks’ once rock-solid penalty kill, but keeping the momentum of a productive fourth line.

Nordstrom was anxious for that task and the likely opportunity to play with ever-improving Teuvo Teravainen and Marcus Kruger on the fourth line when the Hawks play the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at the United Center. Nordstrom skated with Teravainen and Kruger at the morning skate.

“I think the last couple of games before I got hurt, I started playing probably my best hockey that I’ve played up here,” Nordstrom said. “I just want to pick up where I left off and keep improving every game.”

Nordstrom’s improvement is difficult to quantify. He entered Tuesday’s game with no goals, three assists and a minus-five rating this season. But he’s been strong on the penalty kill unit, which allowed four goals in 11 kills while Nordstrom was out.

“He’s effective,” coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about Nordstrom’s return. “Kills penalties. Brings some speed and energy and he’s been good with [Kruger].”

“I just felt loose out there and comfortable. I was making plays,” the 23-year-old Swede said. “I was playing well defensively. I had a couple of opportunities to score some goals. Hopefully I can keep going.”

The challenge for Nordstrom is to stay in the lineup. He’s been sent to Rockford three times this season. He missed two games in mid-March after being suspended for a cross-check. Then the injury. He’s never played in more than 10 consecutive games. The more he plays the better he feels.

“Just feeling more comfortable, you can play with a little bit higher of a risk in some situations,” Nordstrom said. “I learned that offense is the best defense, so trying to play with the puck as much as possible obviously helps out a lot if you want to play offensively as well.”

But the pressure is on for Nordstrom to produce quickly. Newcomer Andrew Desjardins, whom Nordstrom replaced on the line with Kruger and Teravainen, was a plus-three in his last four games. It probably wouldn’t take much for Quenneville to go back to a line combination that was working.

“It’s never a fun position to be in when you’re injured,” Nordstrom said. “I’m happy I was able to recover fast. I’m happy to be back.”