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At the Rink: Lightning at Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning say the game they'll play Tuesday at United Center will be a good early-season barometer.

The Blackhawks haven't strung more than two wins together in their first 15 games, but still garner a lot of respect from the Lightning, who've won six straight and sit atop the NHL standings with 23 points.

"To me, they're the benchmark," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said after the morning skate. "There's a couple teams that I believe are elite and they're one of them."

Cooper brought up the first of two games the Lightning and Blackhawks played last season, when his team won 3-2 in a shootout Oct. 5, 2013 at United Center. Other than escaping with two points, it wasn't a particularly fond memory for Cooper or the Lightning.

Goalie Ben Bishop made 37 saves and was the main reason for the win in a game the Lightning were outshot 39-16.

"Actually, I'm really looking forward to [this game], because I vividly remember last time we were here," Cooper said. "We came in after the 20-minute mark and had zero shots on goal. We ended up winning that game, but anybody that was in the building probably didn't think we maybe deserved those two points. Our goalie stole the show. So, this is a bit of a benchmark game for us, to see how far we've progressed in a year."

Bishop, who's already 9-1-1 this year, will start again Tuesday. He'll be opposed by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford (5-3-1) and will be tested by a Blackhawks offense that's looking for more consistent scoring despite putting up the best puck-possession numbers in the NHL.

Chicago also sees this game as a benchmark.

"I've seen a lot of their games," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane said. "It seems like they score six [or] seven goals every game, so they're a very good offense and a dangerous team. We're going to be ready for this one, for sure. It seems like we've had one good game and then one dud right after. Hopefully that's not the case [this time] and we can put a stretch of [wins] together, especially here at home."

The Blackhawks must figure out a way to cool off Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has nine goals and 14 points in seven career games against them. He'll be playing exactly one year to the day after slamming into a goal post in Boston and severely breaking the tibia in his right leg.

Stamkos has 10 goals and 16 points through the first 15 games, but thinks his play and leg could be better.

"I still don't think I'm at the level I was at before, but that's going to take some time," Stamkos said. "I don't know if the leg is ever going to feel the same as it did before, but it's night-and-day [better from] where I ended the year off last year, after coming back."

The Blackhawks have noticed. They plan to track his every movement in the game and hope it cools him off. Not only does Stamkos have a great track record against them, but he scored two of the Lighting's three regulation goals Sunday in a 4-3 shootout victory at the Detroit Red Wings.

"When he's hot like he was the other night and gets on a roll, he's a threat every time he hits the ice," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I see him at that pace, and at that level and at that excitement level. When you get hot against certain teams, you get excited to play that game, so concentrate and be aware of where he is."

Here are the projected lineups:


Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Jonathan Drouin - Vladislav Namestnikov - Cedric Paquette

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Matt Carle - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Radko Gudas

Eric Brewer - Andrej Sustr

Ben Bishop

Evgeni Nabokov

Scratched: Mark Barberio

Injured: Brett Connolly (lower body), Alex Killorn (upper body), Victor Hedman (fractured finger)


Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Brad Richards - Brandon Saad

Ben Smith - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa

Peter Regin - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor van Riemsdyk - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: David Rundblad

Injured: Patrick Sharp (knee), Daniel Carcillo (knee)

Status report: Quenneville is looking for better defensive play from Shaw. That's why Shaw and Richards flip-flopped lines during the morning skate and will start the game that way. … Rundblad will likely be scratched in favor of Rozsival, who hasn't played in four straight games. … Carcillo skated with Chicago and could be ready to return as soon as this weekend. … Killorn skated with the Lightning and might be ready to return Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.

Who's hot: Stamkos has four goals and four assists in the past six games and has recorded at least a point in five of those contests. His performance Sunday in Detroit was his fourth multigoal effort of the season. … Toews has a point in Chicago's past three games (two goals and three assists).

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