FLORIDA PANTHERS 21-14-10 (52 PTS). vs. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: 28-13-6 (62 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 8:30 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: BLACKHAWK UP
When the Florida Panthers went looking for a general manager to guide the franchise out of the cellar and back to the playoffs, they went after a man who had done that very same thing with another team. Dale Tallon who many credit as the architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was the obvious choice. Dale brought years of experience not only as a player, and television analyst, but as an individual who had management experience at a number of different levels. Dale had a blueprint of how he wanted to do things, and had prided himself on how he did what he did in Chicago. His work has not gone unnoticed in Florida either, and after less than two seasons, Dale has the Panthers well on their way back to respectability, and potentially a berth in the playoffs.
Tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for five Panther players, that Dale Tallon acquired, all of whom were members of the 2010 Cup champion team. Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, John Madden, Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille make up the five players who contributed at various levels that season to ending the Blackhawks Cup drought of 49 years. Those five players were brought to Florida to do the same thing for the Panthers, and hopefully getting a look at the championship banner that hangs from the United Center will give not only these five, but the rest of the team hope that their time will come. Eventually. In the meantime there’s much work to do.
The Panthers come to Chicago trying to avoid their 8th straight road loss after surrendering a 3-1 lead in Colorado Wednesday night, losing 4-3 in overtime. The game which saw Stephen Weiss end his goal scoring drought that dated back to December 5th, also saw Tomas Kopecky get on the board as well. It was the return of Jose Theodore in net who had a very solid performance overall, despite giving up the winning goal. It also saw the return of somethings that gave us nightmares. A weak power play that saw virtually no cohesion during a four minute advantage, a too many me on the ice penalty, a high sticking call at the end of the first period, and numerous defensive breakdowns. You had to wonder if the spirit of the 2010-2011 version of the team was in those white road sweaters.
The loss dropped the Panthers to eighth place in the Southeast Conference, causing many to wonder how long this collapse would continue. Overtime losses are just killing the Panthers and the frustration has seemingly set in and you have to wonder if the guys are pressing. Brian Campbell gave his view of the overtime loss:
It’s frustrating,” Campbell said after his team blew a two-goal lead in the third period and came up empty on a pair of overtime breakaways in a 4-3 loss at Colorado on Wednesday.
“We have to find a way to win that in overtime. I know we don’t want to be in that situation in the first place, but it would have been nice to get something going there.”
The FlashMob Line needs to start scoring, the defence needs to get more physical and clear the crease. The power play actually has to have some power, and the goaltending has to be even better than it’s been. Winning tonight’s game will be no easy task especially for a slumping road team. The Panthers will have to put their sentimental feelings aside for this one and make sure the focus is on playing hockey, rather than admiring the banners. Chicago won’t take Florida lightly, and the Panthers better not think the Hawks will be feeling sorry for them either.
The Hawks are a more mature version of what Dale Tallon is trying to build here in Florida. They play a very similar style (puck possession)to the Panthers, are fast, and have the best captain in the game, and probably the best all around player in the game today in Jonathan Toews. It doesn’t stop there, as Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and the dynamic duo on defence of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook make up the backbone of the team. Missing from this bunch is Patrick Sharp who’s out with an upper body injury, however the Hawks have been fortunate due to the depth of their organization stepping up to make a difference. Viktor Stalberg is playing some of the best hockey of his career, and two rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes have combined for nine goals already after playing 18 games between them.
The Hawks roll four lines, and have just enough toughness to make your life miserable, but don’t have to use it to win. They can score in bunches as they proved when they beat the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night by a score of 6-2. The Hawks are tied for the league lead in goals scored at 156 with Boston, and that’s with Patrick Kane struggling with only 10 on the season. Seems that ever since this commercial hit the airwaves, Kaner has had some difficulty finding the net. While that may be good for opponents, the problem is that he’s due to break out, and when he does, get out of the way. When Kane is hot, not many shots miss and the Panthers don’t want tonight to be the night he finds his touch.
Ray Emery gets the start in goal tonight for the Hawks, as Corey Crawford gets a breather. Emery has appeared in 16 games this season and is 10-3-2 with a 2.67 GAA. Don’t be misled by either goalie’s high GAA. On this Chicago team it’s not that big of an issue as previously mentioned scoring goals isn’t a problem. Plus with the game’s most complete captain leading the way (Jonathan Toews), no lead against this team is ever safe. Toews who is only 23 is the consummate leader and if you think I’m saying because I’m a Hawk fan as well, watch him tonight. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
The last meeting between these two teams was in Florida on November 3rd. The Panthers recovered after trailing 2-0 to tie the game and send it into overtime, which neither team scored, sending the game to a shootout. Patrick Kane scored the winner against Jacob Markstrom, and saw defenceman Brian Campbell play over 31 minutes. This will be Florida’s second visit to Chicago since Dale took over as the general manager. In March of 2011 the Panthers lost 4-0.
* Brian Campbell played three seasons for Chicago and was a key member in their Cup run.
* Kris Versteeg played just over two seasons with the Hawks, and was traded to Toronto after the Cup victory.
* Tomas Kopecky played two seasons in Chicago, winning his second Stanley Cup.
* John Madden played one year with the Hawks, and was brought in for one thing. To help Chicago win. Madded won his third Stanley Cup as a member of the Hawks.
* Jack Skille was drafted in the first round (7th overall) in 2005 by Chicago. He was traded to Florida for Michael Frolik.
* Michael Frolik was originally drafted by the Panthers in 2006. He scored 42 goals in two NHL seasons for Florida.