While the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks appear to be getting healthier, injuries to T.J. Oshie and Jaroslav Halak are threatening to derail the St. Louis Blues' playoff hopes.
Marian Hossa will return from a six-game absence Thursday night as Chicago seeks a ninth straight home win over St. Louis, which may have to wait a little longer to debut the newly acquired Jay Bouwmeester.
Chicago (27-5-3) holds a slim lead over Anaheim atop the West despite playing extended time without Hossa and fellow forward Patrick Sharp, who hasn't played since injuring his shoulder March 6.
While Sharp isn't quite ready to go, Hossa will return from his upper-body injury Thursday. Dave Bolland, who left Monday's 3-2 shootout win over Nashville after blocking a shot, also will play.
"There's no reason to wait longer," said Hossa, third on the team with 13 goals and 23 points. "It's always hard games against (St. Louis) and they play a very physical game."
These teams have played six one-goal games in the past eight meetings at Chicago - two ended in overtime and two in shootouts - but the Blackhawks won them all.
Chicago has gone just 3-3-0 without Hossa, and coach Joel Quenneville is ready to insert him back on the top line with captain Jonathan Toews and rookie Brandon Saad.
"He's the type of player you like the way he plays in all areas of the ice and that line was very good with him," Quenneville said. "I'm sure they're happy to have him back as well."
Patrick Kane sat out Wednesday's practice with an illness, but he'll likely play versus St. Louis. He scored his team-best 19th goal Monday and is among the league leaders with 43 points, including seven goals and nine assists over his last 10 games.
Michal Handzus will be in a Chicago uniform after being acquired from San Jose for a fourth-round pick prior to Monday's victory. The veteran forward, who played eight games for the Blackhawks in 2006-07 before suffering a season-ending ACL tear, has won a career-high 55.6 percent of his faceoffs this season.
"He can take faceoffs, play both wings - versatile in a lot of ways," Quenneville said. "He can kill penalties as well. He's been here in the past and should instantly fit in with the guys."
Chicago has won four straight matchups with St. Louis, including a 3-0 victory in the last meeting Feb. 28 as Toews scored twice. The Blues may have a tough time ending that skid after finding out they will be missing two key contributors for the foreseeable future.
Oshie was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury from blocking a shot during last Thursday's 4-2 loss to Los Angeles. Halak is expected to miss about three weeks due to a lower-body injury suffered in Monday's 4-1 victory at Minnesota that ended a three-game losing streak.
While Halak's 2.14 goals-against average ranks among the league leaders, Oshie has 20 points in 2013 after tying for the team lead last season with 54.
The injuries are tough blows to the Blues (18-14-2), who are battling for one of the West's final playoff spots.
"No excuses in here, we just need results," captain David Backes said. "We need to stick together and bring it every night, and when we do we like our chances."
St. Louis did make a big addition, acquiring Bouwmeester from Calgary on Monday. The veteran defenseman has been trying to obtain his work visa, though, and didn't arrive in Chicago in time for Wednesday's practice. It's unclear if he'll play Thursday.
"He's a workhorse back there and he logs 25 minutes a night on a regular basis," general manager Doug Armstrong said of Bouwmeester. "He gives us, really, what we believe is one of the stronger defenses in the NHL right now."
Armstrong also dealt defenseman Wade Redden to Boston before Wednesday's trade deadline.
Brian Elliott, 0-4-1 with a dismal 4.83 goals-against average in his last five starts, will be in net Thursday.
Chicago counters with Corey Crawford, who has won his last five starts versus St. Louis with a 1.44 GAA.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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