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Tough decisions coming with Eager returning Sunday
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/27/2009 11:13 PM

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Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville likes the fact he's going to have some tough decisions to make for playing time when he has a full roster.

Ben Eager served the final game of his three-game suspension Friday against New Jersey, which means the Hawks will have one extra forward for Sunday's game against Vancouver.

Whomever sits figures to come from the group of Eager, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser and Dustin Byfuglien.

"Some nights you have tough decisions to make," Quenneville said. "I think delegating ice time and competing for ice time is a healthy thing internally and should make us a deeper team and stronger team at the end of the year."

The Hawks still are down two defensemen in Matt Walker and Brent Sopel. Walker is day-to-day with an upper body injury while Sopel is close to returning to practice following midseason elbow surgery.

"Competition makes us all better," defenseman Cam Barker said.

Taking notice: Rookie defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson might be tough to get out of the lineup even after Matt Walker and Brent Sopel return.

The 21-year-old Hjalmarsson has caught the attention of everyone with his poised play.

"He almost looks like he's been out there a couple years," Patrick Kane said. "He's mature and he makes really good plays."

Flaming out: While the Hawks and Vancouver Canucks have an important game for fourth place in the Western Conference on Sunday at the United Center, it's not a sure thing they will be first-round playoff opponents.

The Canucks have been slowly creeping up on first place Calgary in the Northwest Division. Vancouver is only 1 point behind the struggling Flames following Friday's win at Colorado.

It should be noted the Hawks swept the four-game season series from Calgary.

Men in black (stripes): Hawks fans won't have Don Koharski to abuse much longer. The veteran referee has announced he will retire after the regular season and likely take a job with the league.

Referee Ron Shick retired several weeks ago.

Tip-ins: Cristobal Huet recovered from whatever kept him out of practice Thursday to back up Nikolai Khabibulin. ... The Hawks won 57 percent of Friday's faceoffs from the Devils with Jonathan Toews going 8-5.