Chicago Blackhawks: Florida Panthers Gunning for the Defending Champs

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Chicago Blackhawks: Florida Panthers Gunning for the Defending Champs
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Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks visit the Florida Panthers hoping to continue their success against the Eastern Conference in 2013-14.

The Chicago Blackhawks come to Florida as a marked team Tuesday night. A quick look at the Florida Panthers team website says it all: Beating the defending Stanley Cup champions would be a feather in the cap of a struggling team.

The Panthers are 3-6 as they prepare for the third game of a six-game homestand. The 'Hawks, with their moms in tow, are looking to kick off their two-game swing through the Sunshine State with a victory.

Chicago visits Florida for the first time since earning a 3-2 win back on Nov. 3, 2011. Patrick Kane won the game for the 'Hawks in the final round of the shootout. Corey Crawford made 41 saves to pick up the win.

Chicago returns the goal scorers from that contest in Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Steven Weiss and Ed Jovanovski, the Florida scorers from that night, won't be on the ice Tuesday. Weiss now skates for Detroit, while Jovanovski is on injured reserve with a hip injury.

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Kris Versteeg is among a trio of cup-winning Blackhawks now skating for the Panthers.

Florida still has three former Blackhawks from the 2010 Stanley Cup champs to square off with the latest cup winners. Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky have all appeared in all nine games so far this season.

Campbell has five assists for the Panthers in 2013-14. Versteeg has two goals and two helpers, while Kopecky is scoreless on the campaign. It's likely Chicago will see a lot of all three players Tuesday night.

Florida's leading scorer is Tomas Fleischmann, who has eight points (1G, 7A) for the Panthers. Brad Boyles leads the team with four goals, while centers Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have three goals apiece.

In net for the Panthers should be Tim Thomas, who returned to action last week after missing four games with a groin issue. Thomas was in net for Florida's 2-1 shootout win Saturday night, making 30 saves and stopping both Wild attempts in the shootout.

The Blackhawks have been shuffling their lines of late, judging by the practice lines Monday, via ESPN Chicago's Twitter feed. They should come into the contest with a top line of Toews between Hossa and Brandon Saad.

Michal Handzus will center Patrick Sharp and Kane.

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Ben Smith should be back in the Chicago lineup Tuesday night.

Bryan Bickell moves down to the third line with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, while Brandon Pirri will likely center Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith, who returns to the lineup after being scratched in Chicago's last two games.

The Blackhawks are coming off what may be their best 60-minute effort of the season, a 3-1 win over Toronto Saturday. Chicago left on the trip with just 12 forwards. Unless coach Joel Quenneville elects to put a defenseman up front, all 12 should see action in both stops on this road trip.

Crawford looks to be the man in net Tuesday, with Nikolai Khabibulin likely to get his second start of the season against Tampa Bay Thursday. Crawford has put together a string of solid outings and can hopefully continue to play well.

The 'Hawks have been prone to hot starts this season but have found the going tough in the final 20 minutes. Chicago will attempt to score in the third period for the first time since the season opener.

The Blackhawks have feasted on Eastern Conference opponents in the opening month of the season, going 5-0-1 heading into this Southeastern jaunt. Chicago hopes to keep that success going against the Panthers. Puck drop is at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

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