This probably wasn’t the way former Chicago Blackhawks who now play for the Florida Panthers pictured coming back would go. For Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg and John Madden, I’m sure there were visions of riding into the town they helped bring a Stanley Cup to and walking out with a win in their new sweaters.
And it seemed like the perfect time for the Cats to get healthy as Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille all returned from injury following prolonged absences to a team that hadn’t won away from the Bank Atlantic Center since December 8th in Boston. While having those guys back in the lineup, it didn’t matter much as the Blackhawks to their eighth consecutive road loss 3-1 at the United Center.
Despite taking two early penalties to Upshall and Madden, the Panthers managed to match the Blackhawks for much of the period….until the final three minutes that is. Following a near-goal by the Flash Mob line, the Hawks caught the Panthers defensemen too deep in the offensive zone and they made them pay. Patrick Kane found a streaking Jonathan Toews, who had got behind Jason Garrison for a breakaway that he finished with a backhand at 17:40 of the first. A boarding penalty by Keaton Ellerby on new Chicago folk hero Andrew Shaw gave the Hawks a power play they would convert. Duncan Keith took advantage of traffic in front of Jose Theodore and fired home a rocket from just inside the blue line with :17 left in the period.
Second period saw Chicago add to their lead as the Hawks, once again, took advantage of an overzealous pinch by a Panther defenseman. Kane was able to push the puck past Dmitry Kulikov and force a 2-on-1 that he cashed in on his own with a fierce wrister that ended his eight-game scoring drought. The Chicago goal once again came after the Panthers were able to put some pressure on Ray Emery’s cage with the top line but couldn’t take advantage of a few good cracks at net.
The Panthers were able to show some push back early in the third as Garrison unleashed another bomb from the point :43 into the period for his 13th on the season to make it 3-1. But, it would better for the Panthers as they would only manage three more shots the rest of the period while the Hawks would only muster four of their own as they seemed comfortable making sure the Cats didn’t get a second goal.
Coming into this month, safe to say that the schedule ahead could make for a long January. Seven games into a nine game docket, the Panthers have posted a 1-3-3 record with 5 points out of a possible 14. Ouch. Lucky for them the Washington Capitals have stumbled in two of their past three games. And things don’t get easier as travel to Winnipeg for Saturday’s game is sketchy at best as a snowstorm strong enough to postpone this game by 30 minutes continues to affect flights in and out of Chicago.
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