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Florida Panthers vs. Chicago Blackhawks @NHLdotcom
Panthers-Blackhawks Preview

GAME: Florida Panthers (23-26-13-3) at Chicago Blackhawks (18-33-7-5).

TIME: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST.

The Florida Panthers are hoping to make a late-season push for the playoffs.

Back-to-back losses to two of the league's worst teams won't help them get there.

Coming off a disappointing performance, the Panthers looks to regroup when they face the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time in more than a year.

Unbeaten in a season-best five straight (3-0-2), the Panthers figured to stand a good chance to extend that streak Friday with a home game against Washington, which traded center Robert Lang earlier in the day and was playing without defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

Florida, however, managed only a power-play goal by defenseman Mike Van Ryn in the first period, while the Capitals scored four times in the third in a 4-1 victory.

Roberto Luongo had recorded shutouts in two straight outings and three of his last four, but was beaten three times on 10 shots in the final 20 minutes Friday.

"It's a game we needed, that's the bottom line," Luongo said. "When the score was 1-1, the game wasn't over. We went into total panic mode, I don't know what happened there."

The loss prevented the Panthers from moving into ninth place in the Eastern Conference and dropped them nine points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot.

If Florida is going to remain in the playoff race, it needs captain Olli Jokinen to shoulder more of the offensive load. Jokinen has struggled lately, with no goals and three points in his last eight games.

Chicago squandered a two-goal lead in a 4-3 loss to visiting Columbus on Friday.

Luke Richardson's goal with 2:51 remaining proved to be the winner for the Blue Jackets, who moved into a tie with the Blackhawks for last place in the West.

"We just got outworked," Chicago defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "That shouldn't happen in our building. There's no way they should come back."

Left wing Kyle Calder has been the Blackhawks' most productive player lately, with three goals and four assists in his last five games. He has a career-high 19 goals this season.

Chicago is 6-0-1 against Florida since a 2-1 loss on Nov. 4, 1998.

STANDINGS (through Feb. 27): Panthers - 62 points, 2nd place, 18 PB, Southeast Division. Blackhawks - 48 points, 4th place (tied), 35 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 18 goals; Valeri Bure, 23 assists and 40 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 119 PIM. Blackhawks - Calder, 19 goals; Tyler Arnason, 23 assists; Mark Bell, 40 points; Scott Nichol, 108 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 27): Panthers - Power play: 15.9 percent (37 for 232), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.9 percent (244 for 284), 2nd. Blackhawks - Power play: 12.7 percent (36 for 283), 28th. Penalty killing: 85.4 percent (251 for 294), 5th.

GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (20-26-12, 6 SO, 2.25 GAA); Steve Shields (3-3-1, 3.38). Blackhawks - Michael Leighton (5-15-5, 2, 2.97); Adam Munro (no appearances).

2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 11, 2002; 2-2 tie. At Sunrise, Fla., Jay Bouwmeester scored his first NHL goal midway through the third period for Florida.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 10-16-7-1 on the road; Blackhawks - 12-10-4-4 at home.

Associated Press
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