Blackhawks still targeting Thursday as Toews' return

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Blackhawks still targeting Thursday as Toews' return

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jonathan Toews is no longer feeling concussion symptoms on the ice, the ones that kept him out of the final two regular-season games. And while he still wont say hes absolutely playing tomorrow, all signs certainly point to it happening.

Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks are targeting tomorrow as Toews return, as theyll open their first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes. Toews said Wednesday that hes right there with his recovery, and is itching to play.

Its been another day where I just feel like Im getting back to where I want to be; well see how it goes tomorrow, said Toews. If its tomorrow, Im ready. I dont know if Im going to be as good as I was the last time I did play, but its all about simplifying things out there, going out and playing hard.

So with Toews all but confirmed for tomorrow, that line of he, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa could be a viable threat. Yes, itll be somewhat new territory for Kane at left wing. But the potential to do damage is nevertheless there.

Were hopeful that hes playing; (if so), the upside of that line is going to be high end, Quenneville said. We should have puck possession and a lot of ability tomorrow. For sure, tomorrow, well clarify if hes playing but were optimistic.

Kane said, this is a combination weve never really tried before, maybe a couple times throughout seasons and games we were behind or when Hossa first came back a couple years ago. Itll be different but we just have to work hard, get the puck in their end and work some magic down there. Its going to be fun to play with those guys.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

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AP

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).