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Hawks center Marcus Kruger returns after missing game with concussion

New Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) takes ice 2nd period during NHL game March 23 2011 with Chicago Blackhawks hosting

New Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) takes the ice in the 2nd period during the NHL game March 23, 2011 with the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Florida Panthers at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 28, 2012 8:12AM

‘‘Tough’’ isn’t an adjective Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman typically use to characterize Marcus Kruger, but the rookie center definitely has that trait. That was clear Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Kruger was back in the lineup after missing one game with a concussion suffered when Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland hit him in the head last week.

‘‘I feel a lot better,’’ said Kruger, who was cleared to play before the Hawks’ morning skate. ‘‘I felt a bit shaky, but right now I’m feeling good. That’s important.’’

The Blue Jackets apparently wanted to test Kruger early. On Kruger’s first shift, defenseman Aaron Johnson caught him with his head down in the corner and landed a clean, hard check.

On his next shift, Kruger checked forward Rick Nash into the Hawks’ bench. Nash responded with an elbow and a shove to Kruger’s face, drawing a roughing penalty.

Later in the first period, center Derek MacKenzie checked Kruger, and both went crashing hard into the boards.

Kruger isn’t one to shy away from contact, but the Hawks wanted to ease him back into the lineup. Quenneville dropped him to the fourth line, with Brandon Pirri playing his second game in Kruger’s previous spot between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.

Overall, though, Bowman said he has been pleased with Kruger’s play this season.

‘‘I think Marcus has been great,’’ Bowman said, chronicling Kruger’s rise from the fourth line to the second. ‘‘[His play has] coincided with Sharp and Hossa taking off the last eight or nine games. They’ve been lights out, and he’s been on a line with them.’’

Filling in

Kruger was a late arrival for the Hawks’ morning skate because he was getting cleared to play, leaving some holes to fill for some drills.

Sharp, who has played left wing all season, handled line rushes at center. But that’s all it was for Sharp, who has played all three forward positions the last few seasons.

‘‘I don’t know if someone cut [Kruger’s] laces or he slept in or what, but I had to fill the position,’’ Sharp joked.

Slap shots

Defenseman John Scott’s wife, Danielle, gave birth to their first child, Eva Magdalene, on Christmas Eve..

◆ Scott and defenseman Sami Lepisto were healthy scratches. Forward Daniel Carcillo is still on injured reserve.

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