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At the Rink: Panthers at Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are about to get a better gauge of what life is like without defenseman Duncan Keith for a lengthy stretch.

The defending Stanley Cup champions will play the Florida Panthers at United Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, FS-F), and it will be Chicago's first game since Keith had surgery on his right knee.

The Blackhawks (3-3-0), who expect Keith to be out 4-6 weeks, have decided to stand pat with the six active defensemen they have.

"Certainly there's a big void in your lineup when you're missing those type of minutes and the predictability that [Keith] gives you at a high level," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the morning skate. "We use the word patience, or [say], 'We're going to work our way through it with these guys.' But certainly we've been spoiled over the years of having that type of 25 minutes of quality, solid ice time there. Hopefully we won't miss him like that, which could happen, but we're forecasting that these guys are going to be OK."

One of those guys is David Rundblad, who hasn't played since Chicago's season-opening game loss against the New York Rangers on Oct. 7. Rundblad has played105 games in parts of five NHL seasons.

"I've actually been here for quite a long time now and I've been in and out of the lineup too many times before," Rundblad said. "I kind of know the deal now and I just want to go out there and try to have fun, make good plays and play some good hockey."

Rundblad will start with Trevor Daley and play the right side on the third pairing. Quenneville will put rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the top pairing and keep rookie Viktor Svedberg on the second with Brent Seabrook.

"I think at our level here, we're going to try to do everything we can to make it work," Quenneville said. "You do have to have some patience with the pairs and getting a little familiarity with one another as partners, but we don't want to change too much [about] how we approach our whole team game. We feel these guys are going to get better the more they play. And that experience is going to make them better as the season goes along as well. I think that's what we've got and we're looking forward to it."

The Panthers (3-2-1) don't have concerns with their defensemen, having eight on the active roster and an assortment of talented young players and savvy veterans for coach Gerard Gallant to pick from.

"We've got a good mix on the back end," Gallant said. "Last year we talked about goaltending and the defensive end and that was our strong point. That's why we had a better season last year and I think it's going to carry over this year again. As long as those young defensemen keep getting better every game we're going to be a better team for it."

Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo who's expected to start, is 2-2-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games.

Corey Crawford will start in net for the Blackhawks, who have won their past two home games.

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Brandon Pirri - Nick Bjugstad - Vincent Trocheck

Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Reilly Smith

Quinton Howden - Derek MacKenzie - Connor Brickley

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Steven Kampfer

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Injured: None

Scratched: Shawn Thornton, Alex Petrovic, Dylan Olsen


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 (knee), Michal Rozsival (ankle)

Scratched: Bryan Bickell

Status report: Bickell had played in the first six games but Quenneville was not pleased with his play in the Blackhawks' 4-1 win Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. ... Tikhonov re-enters the lineup after being a healthy scratch. ... Gallant is sticking with his reconfigured second and third lines from a 3-2 overtime loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.

Who's hot: Panarin has two goals and seven points in six games. He had at least a point in four of the first six games, including two multi-point games. ... Barkov had scored a goal in three straight games prior to finishing without a point Tuesday.

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