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Streaking Blackhawks look to stay hot vs. Panthers

by Davis Harper /

BLACKHAWKS (5-1-2) at PANTHERS (3-6-0)


Season series: This is the first of two season meetings. The Chicago Blackhawks have won the past three meetings with the Florida Panthers, including a 3-1 win in the most recent matchup on Jan. 20, 2012.

Big story: The Blackhawks will try to continue their impressive record against Eastern Conference teams when they face Florida on Tuesday. Chicago enters BB&T Center with a 5-0-1 record against Eastern foes in 2013-14.

Florida, meanwhile, is looking to build on its shootout win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. It was the Panthers' third victory of the season.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: For all the talk of a Stanley Cup hangover and potential lack of offensive production, the Chicago Blackhawks still find themselves three points off the pace of the League-leading San Jose Sharks. Since their only regulation loss, against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9, the Blackhawks have gone 4-0-1.

Against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, Chicago welcomed back Dave Bolland to the United Center with a sound beating. Brandon Pirri scored and assisted as Chicago used three second-period goals to dispatch the Maple Leafs 3-1.

A highly regarded forward after three seasons dominating for Rockford in the American Hockey League, Pirri struggled at the start of the season, but he now has two goals and an assist in his last two games. Coach Joel Quenneville said he expected Pirri to keep improving in order to solidify a place in Chicago's lineup.

"I think that's basically the plan, work his way up knowing that we feel he can be that type of guy that can play top minutes with top guys," Quenneville said. "The other part [defensively], [is] working his way up through that part of it."

Panthers: After enduring two three-game losing skids so far in 2013-14, the Florida Panthers are hoping a winning streak may be on the horizon. Tim Thomas, the goaltender signed off a professional tryout contract in training camp, is back and healthy, and Florida's crop of young players is improving by the day. Just ask the Minnesota Wild. On Saturday, Thomas saved 30 shots, Aleksander Barkov scored in regulation and Jonathan Huberdeau helped seal it in the shootout as the Panthers topped the Wild 2-1.

For Thomas, it was his second consecutive start after missing four games with a groin injury. He stopped 37 shots Thursday against his former team, the Boston Bruins, in a game the Bruins won with a goal in the final minute.

"I'm feeling more comfortable there," Thomas said. "I'm feeling progressively better as of right now. I thought I felt really good in preseason, and I even felt good through Dallas [in the season opener]. And then we had a couple of rough games there and then I got that little injury. But now I can feel my movement getting better and getting used to games. There's nothing like a game. You can do all the practices you want, but you need game time."

Who's hot: Corey Crawford is 3-0-1 in his past four starts, and has posted a .963 save percentage over that period. … Though Brad Boyes hasn't been on the scoresheet in the past two games, he did convert in the shootout against Minnesota and leads the Panthers in goals with four.

Injury report: For the Blackhawks, defenseman Michal Rozsival has missed the past two games with an illness and is questionable for Tuesday. … For the Panthers, defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip) is doubtful and right wing Steven Pinizzotto (hip) is not expected back until November.

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