Not to long ago the Chicago Blackhawks were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, but after an eight-game winning streak the defending Stanley Cup champs sit in forth place in the Western Conference.
The Blackhawks look to continue their push Tuesday night when they visit the Florida Panthers and former general manager Dale Tallon.
Chicago (37-23-6) has surged to fourth place in the crowded West, also moving within six points of Central Division-leading Detroit.
Before this streak began, the Blackhawks were tied for 11th place in the conference, four points behind four teams that were tied for the final three playoff spots. They’ve cut eight points off their deficit in the division.
Jonathan Toews has been a big part of the turnaround. He extended his point streak to nine games in a 5-3 win at Toronto on Saturday, scoring his seventh goal in the last five games. Marian Hossa also scored, giving him six goals in seven games.
They aren’t the only ones who have been hot recently. The Blackhawks have scored 16 goals in the last three games, with seven coming in the first period.
“We have an expectation to win and get the two points and I think it’s showing in the way we’re starting games,” defenseman Duncan Keith said.
Keith suffered a finger injury in the latest win after he was hit by a shot early in the third period, but the Blackhawks expect him to play Tuesday.
As Chicago tries to extend its winning streak to nine games for the first time since Dec. 7-28, 2008, it will do so against Tallon’s Panthers (26-31-9). Tallon was one of the architects of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning team, but he was demoted from general manager to senior advisor in 2009.
Florida hired him last May to help turn things around for their struggling franchise. Despite not being with Chicago during last season’s playoffs, Tallon still received a championship ring.
While one of Tallon’s immediate goals was getting Florida into the playoffs for the first time since 2000, it doesn’t appear that will happen this season. The Panthers are in 13th place in the East and have lost five straight, including the last two in overtime.
They fell 3-2 to Washington on Sunday after giving up the tying goal with 2:36 remaining in the third period. The Capitals scored 48 seconds into overtime. The defeat came one night after giving up the winning score to Atlanta 25 seconds into the extra session.
“I thought we kind of stayed with (the Capitals) and looked them in the eye and didn’t back down,” Florida center Marty Reasoner said. “I think we can be proud of that. Obviously, it seems like we’re (seeing) too many times where you try to find the positives in losses. With a young group, we’re focused on our effort and how we’re playing the system. For the most part, we did that and a bounce here or there and both nights we could have come out with wins.”
Chicago took three of a possible four points in the two games against Florida last season in Helsinki, Finland. Patrick Kane, who has two goals and six assists his last seven games, recorded four points in that series.
This will be the first game for forward Michael Frolik against the Panthers since they traded him to the Blackhawks in a five-player deal Feb. 9.
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