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Blackhawks defenseman Michael Kostka close to being activated

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen pokes puck away from Hawks captaJonathan Toews Friday night. | Glenn James/Getty images

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen pokes the puck away from Hawks captain Jonathan Toews on Friday night. | Glenn James/Getty images

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Updated: January 1, 2014 6:15AM



DALLAS — While coach Joel Quenneville does everything he can to keep the Blackhawks fresh during this 13-day road trip, holding only one off-day practice and keeping morning skates short and sweet, defenseman Michael Kostka has been spending extra time on the ice.

Both in Chicago and since rejoining the team in Edmonton, Kostka has been pushing himself to get back into game shape as quickly as possible.

And he’s getting close.

“I feel good,” Kostka said. “It’s been good to get back, join up with the team again. It’s a little lonely skating by yourself. Me and [Michael Handzus] were kind of holding the fort back down in Chicago, but I feel good.”

Kostka was injured when he was struck in the foot/ankle with a puck during the morning skate in Florida on Oct. 22. He had just scored his first goal of the season in the previous game, against his former Toronto teammates, in only his second game.

Quenneville said Kostka is close to being activated off long-term injured reserve and returning to the lineup, but with eight healthy defensemen now, he’ll still have to work his way back into the sixth-man rotation with Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank.

Brookbank played Friday night in Dallas, with Rozsival a healthy scratch. Quenne-ville said he didn’t get a long enough look at how the three-man rotation would work before Kostka was injured, so he’ll go back to that when Kostka is ready to play.

“We obviously have a ton of depth here on ‘D,’ so I’ll just be ready when my name is called,” Kostka said. “I know the other seven guys are very able and willing to do the job, as well. . . . That’s kind of the nature of the beast. I’ve been used to being on the cusp of being right there a lot. You do your best to stay focused and be prepared for when your name is called.”

Rounding into form

Handzus is another player working to get back into game shape. He played about 13 minutes in Edmonton and 12 minutes in Calgary.

“It’s good to be back, but obviously I have a ways to go to get better,” Handzus said. “The game conditioning, obviously, it’s a little bit different than just skating. And I haven’t practiced with the team much, so the timing is a little bit off. But you work through it and hopefully get better every game.”

Back to Crawford

Corey Crawford was back in net for the Hawks after his run of 15 consecutive appearances was snapped with Antti Raanta’s first career start in Calgary. Quenneville said he hadn’t decided on who would start Saturday against Phoenix to close out the circus trip.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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