(AP) — Looking to lead the Florida Panthers back to the playoffs after more than a decade without a berth, former Chicago general manager Dale Tallon turned to some players who helped the Blackhawks achieve an even bigger goal.
Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg have been primary reasons Florida is a factor in the Southeast Division, but they’ll be trying to prevent the Panthers’ eighth straight road loss Friday night when they return to the United Center for the first time since leaving the Blackhawks.
Tallon was a major architect of the roster that won Chicago its first Stanley Cup in 49 years, but he was demoted before taking a GM job with the Panthers.
This past offseason, he brought in some familiar faces to help key another turnaround. Florida acquired Versteeg in a trade with Philadelphia, and the Blackhawks shipped Campbell and his hefty contract to the Panthers for Rostislav Olesz, who has spent most of this season in the minors.
Chicago also traded Tomas Kopecky to Tallon’s club, which signed the impending free agent to a four-year deal.
Versteeg leads Florida with 17 goals and 39 points, while Campbell has had an All-Star season with 34 points – among the league leaders for defensemen.
The Panthers (21-14-10) have led their division alone for much of the season, but they’re currently tied with Washington after going 3-5-4 in their last 12 games. They’ve matched a season worst by losing three straight, although they picked up a point in each of the last two.
“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 defeat left Florida at 0-3-4 in its last seven away from home.
Ending that drought against the Blackhawks (28-13-6) seems like a daunting task. Coach Joel Quenneville’s club has outscored opponents 20-9 while winning four straight at home to improve to 18-5-4 there, remaining among the contenders for the Western Conference’s top spot.
Buffalo, another team with a lengthy road skid, was routed 6-2 in Chicago on Wednesday as Jonathan Toews scored twice.
In addition to their stars, the Blackhawks have also been getting major contributions from younger players. Rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes each had a goal and an assist against the Sabres, with the 20-year-old Shaw scoring for the fourth straight game.
“It’s awesome, (Hayes and Shaw) are playing great hockey,” Toews said. “We know that if they keep playing that way the goals are going to come.
“It’s making a huge difference for our team right now that all four lines are working and making things happen.”
The depth has helped the Blackhawks manage a 4-0-1 record since Patrick Sharp went down with a wrist injury.
Toews and Marian Hossa scored and Corey Crawford stopped 41 shots and all three shootout attempts in Chicago’s 3-2 win at Florida on Nov. 3. Campbell played a game-high 31:41 but didn’t have any points, while Versteeg contributed an assist.
The Blackhawks didn’t face Jose Theodore in that game, but they might Friday after he returned from a two-week absence due to a knee injury against the Avalanche. He’s 3-2-1 with a 1.91 goals-against average in his last six meetings with Chicago.
The Panthers have made one previous trip to the Windy City since Tallon’s arrival, losing 4-0 on March 23.
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