CHICAGO – At 36 years old, veteran center Michal Handzus still is able to improve his game.
The past six weeks with the Blackhawks have proven that to be the case.
“I think I’m playing better than I played before,” Handzus said Thursday before the Hawks hosted the Minnesota Wild in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. “Obviously, I’m playing with very good players – well, right now, with great players on the second line.”
Handzus hasn’t been too bad, himself.
The Hawks took a low-risk gamble when they traded a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NHL draft to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Handzus, a 14-season veteran who was known for his ability to win faceoffs. Handzus rewarded the Hawks with six points (1 G, 5 A) in 11 games after notching only two points (1 G, 1 A) in 28 games for the Sharks.
In the playoffs, Handzus has anchored the Hawks’ second line between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. He has two assists while averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time.
“It’s been fun,” Handzus said. “It’s a great team.”
Coming along: Pesky center Dave Bolland participated in the Hawks’ morning skate and inched closer to returning from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the playoffs.
Bolland was “real close” to playing, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Two years ago, Bolland returned in the middle of the Hawks’ opening series against the Vancouver Canucks to provide a much-needed spark. Yet the Hawks have not slumped without Bolland in the lineup this season, which is a credit to the team’s depth.
“We missed him in that [Vancouver] series, and you could feel his contribution when he returned,” Quenneville said. “I think this year he’s been out a little bit, too, so we had a chance to find out other options. …
“But you know and appreciate his past experiences come playoff time. What he brings to your team, he can definitely help us.”
In 49 career playoff games, Bolland has 37 points (14 G, 23 A) and 60 penalty minutes.
Good guess: Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo flashed a sense of humor about his tenuous goaltending situation as he greeted reporters after the morning skate.
“Can I wager a guess on what your first question is going to be?” Yeo asked.
A moment later, a Minnesota reporter asked which goaltender would start in net.
“I was right,” Yeo said with a smile.
Yeo’s answer was Josh Harding. He started despite injuring his left leg in Game 4, while Niklas Backstrom remained out because of a lower-body injury.
Hawks bits: Goaltender Ray Emery participated in the Hawks’ morning skate but remained sidelined for Game 5 because of a lower-body injury. … Forward Daniel Carcillo was active for a second consecutive game after sitting out for the first three.