Hossa to return when Blackhawks host Sabres

CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa is returning when the slumping Chicago Blackhawks need him most.

The five-time All-Star right winger has not played since Dec. 20 because of an upper-body injury. He is scheduled to be in the lineup when the Blackhawks (23-12-5) host the Buffalo Sabres (14-15-8) on Thursday night at the United Center.

Chicago lost two games in a row and went 1-3-1 without Hossa, who shares the team lead with 16 goals. The 37-year-old practiced with his teammates Wednesday and reported no problems.

"I felt good," Hossa told reporters after practice. "I would have loved to be back faster, but at this point it was smarter to wait (until) when I felt comfortable to come back. Obviously, you don't want to lose too much (time) if you have things going your way, but sometimes you cannot help it."

The Sabres are seeking their second win in a row after a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. The game offered a positive sign for a team that is 2-4-2 in its past eight contests.

Buffalo faces a stiff challenge against Chicago, which has won nine straight games in the series. The Blackhawks have not lost to the Sabres since Dec. 11, 2009, and have not lost to the Sabres at the United Center since Jan. 10, 2007.

Center Ryan O'Reilly could return for Buffalo if he receives clearance from the team's medical staff before the game. O'Reilly, 25, underwent surgery for an emergency appendectomy less than two weeks ago but practiced Wednesday and said he felt good.

Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford is set to make his 25th start of the season. Crawford is 13-8-3 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage this season. Against Buffalo, he is 7-0-0 with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in his career.

For the Sabres, goaltender Anders Nilsson could earn his second start in a row after limiting the Rangers to one goal Tuesday. The 26-year-old Swede is 6-3-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in 12 games (11 starts) this season.

If Nilsson returns to the bench, look for fellow Swedish netminder Robin Lehner to start. Lehner, 25, is 8-12-5 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 26 starts this season. He stopped 37 of 39 shots in his only career appearance against the Blackhawks in 2012.

Sabres right winger Justin Bailey will try to remain hot after scoring his first career goal Tuesday. The 21-year-old Buffalo native appeared in 12 career games, including eight last season.

"It was a huge relief," Bailey told reporters when asked about his first goal. "I've had chances in the past, and I can't say it hasn't been on my mind all of last summer and this year, too. I was happy it finally came and I can start getting back to the playing the way I play."

The Blackhawks are 0-2-1 in their last three games at home. However, they are 13-4-4 this season at the United Center. Buffalo is 7-7-5 on the road
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