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Preview: Blackhawks at Panthers

Florida remains without Aaron Ekblad; Chicago tries to add to Central Division lead

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

BLACKHAWKS (48-20-6) at PANTHERS (32-30-11)

7 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-F, WGN, NHL.TV


Blackhawks team scope

Entering play Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks are eight points ahead of the Minnesota Wild, who are second in the Central Division and Western Conference with one game in hand. "The division is where we're concentrating on, and we'll see what happens outside of that," coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday. "That's our focus." Chicago did not hold a morning skate Saturday. The Blackhawks likely will start goalie Corey Crawford, who has been on a hot streak lately. Crawford has eight wins in his past 11 starts (8-2-0; 26 goals allowed). He has made at least 40 saves in three of his past five starts, including 42 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against the Dallas Stars on Thursday after allowing four goals on 10 shots in his previous start. Crawford's impressive stretch has coincided with the Blackhawks run of 18 wins in their past 22 games (18-3-1). Forward Jonathan Toews, who has seven points (three goals, four assists) on a six-game point streak, has also helped fuel that run with 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in his past 18 games. Quenneville needs one win for 850 in his NHL coaching career.


Panthers team scope

The Panthers will be without defenseman Aaron Ekblad for a second straight game. Ekblad sustained a sore neck against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, which was his first game back from missing four games with a concussion sustained March 11. Coach Tom Rowe said Ekblad would not travel on the upcoming four-game road trip. "He's feeling good but we're not going to rush him. [We will] be more patient with him," Rowe said. "I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It's no one's fault but my own." The Panthers will attempt to keep their Stanley Cup Playoffs hopes from dimming further with a win. Florida (75 points) is seven points behind the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers are also ahead of the Panthers. Florida has lost 11 of in its past 15 games (4-10-1).


Blackhawks projected lineup

John Hayden -- Jonathan Toews -- Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin -- Ryan Hartman -- Patrick Kane

Nick Schmaltz -- Marcus Kruger -- Marian Hossa

Dennis Rasmussen -- Tanner Kero -- Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith -- Niklas Hjalmarsson

Johnny Oduya -- Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell -- Trevor van Riemsdyk

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling

Scratched: Michal Kempny, Andrew Desjardins, Tomas Jurco, Michal Rozsival

Injured: Artem Anisimov (lower body)


Panthers projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen -- Vincent Trocheck -- Reilly Smith

Thomas Vanek -- Nick Bjugstad -- Jonathan Marchessault

Shawn Thornton -- Derek MacKenzie -- Colton Sceviour

Keith Yandle -- Jason Demers

Michael Matheson -- Alex Petrovic

Mark Pysyk -- Jakub Kindl

James Reimer

Reto Berra

Scratched: Michael Sgarbossa, Denis Malgin

Injured: Roberto Luongo (lower body), Aaron Ekblad (neck)


Status report

Luongo will not return Saturday after last playing March 2 against Philadelphia. He could start a game on the upcoming road trip for the Panthers, Rowe said.


Who's hot

Kane has 21 points (13 goals, eight assists) in his past 14 games. He leads Chicago with 81 points, which are six behind Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid for the NHL lead, entering play Saturday. … Barkov has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his past eight games. ... Marchessault has seven points (six goals, one assist) in his past eight games.

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