Niklas Hjalmarsson is able to return to the ice in this rematch against the Sabres. He was suspended for an illegal hit in the first period during the Blackhawks’ win Oct. 11 against Buffalo. This could make Hjalmarsson a target.
By MATT BECKER
(AP) — Earlier this week, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was suspended two games for delivering an illegal blind-side hit that injured the Buffalo Sabres’ Jason Pominville.
Hjalmarsson is eligible to return Saturday, just in time to host a Sabres team still fuming about that vicious check.
Things could get chippy and Hjalmarsson could be targeted when the Blackhawks and Buffalo meet for the second and final time this season.
Hjalmarsson hit Pominville into the boards from behind in the first period of Chicago’s 4-3 win in Buffalo on Monday.
Pominville didn’t move while on his back on the ice for 15 minutes, eventually getting carted off on a stretcher. He sustained a concussion and a gash above his eye that required 7-8 stitches. The six-year veteran, who was third on the Sabres last season in goals (24), assists (38) and points (62), is out indefinitely.
Hjalmarsson, not known as a dirty player, drew a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for the hit. On Wednesday, the NHL suspended him for two games.
Considering Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller described the hit as a “dumb hockey play,” he probably would have liked to see a longer suspension.
“You can’t have a hit like that, it’s dangerous,” Miller said after Tuesday’s practice.
Although Hjalmarsson will be back on the ice sooner than the Sabres (1-3-1) would have liked, it will also give them a chance to exact some revenge.
“I think it’ll get taken care of either with the league or, I think, when we play them Saturday,” Buffalo agitator Patrick Kaleta said before the suspension was announced. “We’ll make a point that you can’t be taking hits like that against one of our leaders.”
It is rare that the Sabres get another crack at an opponent from the other conference. This is the first time in eight years that these teams are playing each other twice in the same season.
The Blackhawks (2-2-1) overcame a shaky start by backup goalie Corey Crawford in Monday’s meeting, as he yielded two goals in the first three minutes. Crawford managed to settle down, finishing with 32 saves, and Marian Hossa led Chicago with a pair of goals.
Marty Turco got the start Friday, turning aside 30 shots in a 5-2 victory over Columbus – his first win with the Blackhawks.
The offense, inconsistent in the first four contests, didn’t appear to be slowed Friday by the absence of Patrick Kane, who didn’t make the trip because of an undisclosed illness. Patrick Sharp broke open a one-goal game with two second-period scores, while Hossa notched his fourth goal of the season.
Sharp and Hossa might again need to carry the offense if Kane, a Buffalo native who scored Monday against the Sabres, is unable to play.
Buffalo arrives in Chicago following a 0-3-1 homestand, capped by a 2-1 loss to Montreal on Friday.
“When you have games at home, you got to take advantage,” Sabres right wing Mike Grier said. “Hopefully we can get this straightened out soon.”
The Sabres, who have scored only once in their last two games, now play six of their next seven on the road, beginning with this matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“Yeah, that will be an easy game. I’m looking forward to that one,” coach Lindy Ruff deadpanned.
Updated October 15, 2010