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At the Rink: Blackhawks at Lightning

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning avoided an injury scare Friday when defenseman Victor Hedman took the ice with the rest of his teammates for the morning skate.

With the Lightning already thin on the blue line they will need major contributions from Hedman and the rest of the defense when they play the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena on Friday.

The Lightning (37-19-6) have had four days rest after going 3-2-0 on a West Coast trip that ended with a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The Blackhawks are playing their third game in four days and the second half of a back-to-back after a 3-0 win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

"It's good to give the body a couple of days to rest because we've got a pretty full schedule coming up," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "It's always good, especially this time of the year."

As for Hedman, his departure from practice Thursday was just a precautionary measure.

"Everything feels right and we've got a big matchup tonight so I have to be out there," Hedman said. "This is the time when we have to try to separate ourselves and up our game. That's what the teams like Chicago and Boston do this time of year."

Chicago (37-20-5) is currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference but third in the Central Division. The Blackhawks have won their past two games, a home-and-home sweep of the Florida Panthers, but are facing new challenges with the injury of top-line center Patrick Kane.

Kane is expected to miss up to 12 weeks with a broken clavicle suffered in a 3-2 shootout win against Florida on Tuesday. It's expected the Blackhawks will try to add a player before the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. ET on Monday.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper says the Blackhawks are still one of the most dangerous teams in the league despite the Kane injury.

"I think we've had a little rest and we should be acclimated and sharp," Cooper said. "We want to be able to take advantage of a team that has played three times in four days and not slept in their own beds. They are a very tough team and I expect a lot of energy to be in the building tonight. We should be ready. No excuses."

The Blackhawks did not skate Friday after playing the Panthers on Thursday. They are 5-3-1 in the second half of back-to-back games this season.

"They have other guys that are going to step up and whenever they come here it's going to be a tough game," Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. "They know how to win this time of the year and we need to get off to a fast start."

Here are the projected lineups:


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Brad Richards - Kris Versteeg

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Teuvo Teravainen

Joakim Nordstrom - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook

Duncan Keith - David Rundblad

Kyle Cumiskey - Michal Rozsival

Scott Darling

Corey Crawford

Scratched: Tim Erixon, Daniel Carcillo

Injured: Patrick Kane (clavicle), Johnny Oduya (upper body)


Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Valtteri Filppula

Nikita Kucherov - Tyler Johnson - Ondrej Palat

Cedric Paquette - Brett Connolly - Ryan Callahan

Jonathan Drouin - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Nikita Nesterov

Andrej Sustr - Mark Barberio

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: Brenden Morrow, Luke Witkowski

Injured: Matt Carle (abdominal surgery), Radko Gudas (knee)

Status report: Brown returns to the lineup in place of Morrow. Cooper said Vasilevskiy is likely to start a game or two a week the rest of the regular season. "We have 16 games in the next 32 days," he said in comments tweeted by the Lightning. "Ben Bishop is not playing them all."

Who's hot: Johnson had a goal and two assists in a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. … Toews has scored a goal in three consecutive games.

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