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At the Rink: Lightning at Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning have nearly the same roster they had in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, but there could be one noticeable difference against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN, SN1, SUN, WGN).

Rather than going with top goalie Ben Bishop, who's started the first eight games of the season, the Lightning will start rookie goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in their first return to Chicago since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup here in Game 6 on June 15.

Gudlevskis, 23, was recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Saturday. This will be the second regular-season start of his NHL career.

"There's always ways to find some intelligence on guys, but certainly at the same time, you want to make sure you don't change too much of the mindset (of) traffic, second opportunities (and putting) as many pucks to the net as possible," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the morning skate. "They defend well and check well. (There's) not a lot of time and space. We want to make sure we're taking advantage of the shots we get."???

Tampa Bay did not hold a full morning skate. Other than Gudlevskis and veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn, the Lightning will use a lineup that should look familiar to the Blackhawks.

Captain Steven Stamkos still centers the top line, flanked by Jonathan Drouin and Ryan Callahan. The "Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov remains the second line. Cedric Paquette, who gave Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews a battle in the Cup Final, was moved to center of the fourth line during Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime win at Winnipeg on Friday.

Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are still heading up an impressive defense corps, which has the same top two pairings intact from the Lightning's playoff run.

It should be a great opponent to measure up against for the Blackhawks, who went through significant roster reshuffling in the offseason and lost top defenseman Duncan Keith for 4-6 weeks after surgery on Tuesday to repair a meniscal tear in his right knee.

Tampa Bay's 27 goals (3.4 per game) rank second only to the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL and it's a balanced attack.

"Most teams have one or two lines you have to be concerned with," Quenneville said. "Tonight’s team is deeper and [the Lightning] have a real active back end, so it's going to be an ongoing challenge tonight. It'll be a good test for some of our young defensemen as well."

Chicago appears set to go with the same lineup from a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at United Center on Thursday. Corey Crawford will start in net, power forward Bryan Bickell will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game and Viktor Tikhonov will get another spin on the top line with Toews and right wing Marian Hossa.

It might not have quite the same feel of a Stanley Cup Final game, but the Blackhawks who've won the Cup prior to their current title know what to expect in these kind of games the following season.

"It's tough to lose in the [Cup Final], so you've got to expect a team like that to be hungry," forward Andrew Shaw said. "They're experienced now too in the playoffs, so they're a dangerous team and you have to expect big things from them."

They're hoping for big things from themselves too.

"There's not as much on the line in [this] game, but still, we're in a situation where we want to start gaining ground, getting better as a team and getting more points," Crawford said. "To us, it's an important game. Yeah, we played them in the Final, but for us, at this point, it's more about our team and moving up in the standings."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan Drouin - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Erik Condra

J.T. Brown - Vladislav Namestnikov - Cedric Paquette

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Matt Carle - Jason Garrison

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Kristers Gudlevskis

Ben Bishop

Scratched: Nikita Nesterov, Brian Boyle, Kevin Poulin

Injured: Andrei Vasilevskiy (blood clot)


Viktor Tikhonov - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane

Teuvo Teravainen - Vincent Hinostroza - Ryan Garbutt

Andrew Desjardins - Marcus Kruger - Andrew Shaw

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Viktor Svedberg - Brent Seabrook

Trevor Daley - David Rundblad

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling

Injured: Duncan Keith (surgery, right meniscus), Michal Rozsival (left ankle)

Scratched: Bryan Bickell

Status report: Quenneville paired his two best defensemen, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook, during some key situations during Chicago's win against the Panthers. He might continue to do that at times while Keith is out. … Boyle could return for Tampa Bay in place of Condra or Namestnikov.

Who's hot: Panarin has eight points (two goals) and a three-game assist streak for the Blackhawks. … Hedman has five assists in the past two games and tied a career-high with three against Winnipeg on Friday. His nine assists are tied for first in the League.

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