Chicago Blackhawks eager to get Kruger back

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Marcus Kruger, standing in front of Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final last year, is hoping to be back in the lineup by the end of March.

    Marcus Kruger, standing in front of Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final last year, is hoping to be back in the lineup by the end of March. Associated Press File Photo/June 2015

 
 
Updated 3/14/2016 8:31 AM

During the Blackhawks' title run last postseason, I asked players about their favorite moment from playoff seasons past.

Some guys -- such as Brent Seabrook and Bryan Bickell -- didn't even have to think about it.

 

Some, such as Antoine Vermette and Jonathan Toews, needed to give it a bit more thought.

Then there was Marcus Kruger.

When I asked the soft-spoken Swede for a special moment, he wouldn't give me anything except hoisting the Cup and celebrating with his teammates in Boston in 2013.

Unfortunately, that just wasn't going to cut it, so I put Kruger on the back burner and hoped something would develop down the line.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on May 19 in Anaheim. Deep into the third overtime, with Chicagoans wondering if they'd ever get to sleep that night, Kruger ended the longest playoff game in Blackhawks history by knocking in a Seabrook shot past Frederik Andersen.

During the Stanley Cup Final, I cornered Kruger by his locker and repeated my question. He refused to change his answer until I explained the "special moment" had to be a personal accomplishment on the ice and not about the team itself.

Finally, he relented.

That story says everything about Kruger, for whom big goals and big personal moments are few and far between.

But that's OK because he's all about doing the little things, whether it's centering the out-of-the-limelight fourth line, doing the behind-the-scenes dirty work or being the Hawks' most reliable penalty killer.

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His absence the last three months might not have been noticed so much by Hawks fans, but you can bet his teammates have missed him dearly. They were thrilled to see him back at practice Sunday for the first time since he dislocated his left wrist Dec. 17 in a game against Edmonton.

"It was a lot of fun to be out there with the guys again and skating around," Kruger said. "It's been a long time, so really enjoyed my time out there today."

Kruger missed just three games during the last three seasons, so being out for the last 36 hasn't been easy.

"Yeah, I'm not going to lie, it's been tough," said Kruger, who might be able to return to game action when the team begins a four-game road trip in Calgary on March 26.

Kruger should provide stability to a penalty kill that has been nothing short of abysmal over the past 13 games. During that stretch, the Hawks have killed off just 61.9 percent of opponents' power plays. That has dropped their season percentage to 78.3, fifth worst in the league.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When you take a penalty, you're almost holding your breath," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Right now we're a little gun shy in that area."

Last year the Hawks ranked 10th with an 83.4-percent kill rate.

"It's definitely experience that makes the difference," goalie Corey Crawford said. "Being on (the penalty kill) and getting to know teams, getting to know players.

"He knows our system to a T. Just everything comes together after you've been on there for a few years. He's probably one of our better guys at it."

The Hawks recently signed Kruger to a three-year extension worth $9.25 million. That's better than $3 million a year for a center with 28 career goals in 320 games. He had zero this season in 33 games before getting injured.

That just shows you how important he is to a team seeking its fourth championship in seven seasons.

"I tried to be patient and I'm thankful that they signed me here, even if I was injured and didn't play my best hockey before that," Kruger said. "So, I'm really thankful for that."

Just as the Hawks will be thankful to have Kruger back just in time to take another run at yet another Stanley Cup.

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