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Blackhawks’ Connor Murphy cleared for contact

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The defenseman will travel for Chicago’s road trip, but isn’t expected to play.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Defenseman Connor Murphy is inching closer to returning to the ice as the Blackhawks have cleared him for contact.

Murphy will travel for Chicago’s two-game road trip this week, but is not expected to play. He started participating in practice Nov. 26 for the first time since having back surgery in September.

Murphy scored two goals with 12 assists in 76 games in his first season for Chicago in 2017-18. He averaged a little more than 16 minutes of ice time per game, which was the second-lowest among all defenseman last season.

When the Blackhawks feel Murphy is ready to return and active him for injured reserve, they’ll have to decide what to do with defensemen Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta. Both blue liners have played the majority of the season on the third pairing, where Murphy is expected to draw in. Brandon Davidson, who has also skated on the third line, is on injured reserve after having right knee surgery Nov. 27.