Panthers’ Playoff Hopes Fading

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SUNRISE (SportsDirect Inc.) — The Chicago Blackhawks continue to widen their lead in the Central Division and look to extend their point streak to eight games when they start a three-game road trip against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

The Blackhawks defeated Dallas 3-2 in a shootout Thursday to improve to 6-0-1 in their last seven games and lead Minnesota by eight points in the Central with one more game played.

Chicago’s Patrick Kane notched his team-leading 33rd goal Thursday for his 21st point in the last 14 games to push his total to 81 – six behind league-leader Connor McDavid of Edmonton.

The Blackhawks had a tough time with the Panthers in a 2-1 shootout victory on Nov. 29 in interim coach Tom Rowe’s debut and Florida has been up and down since.

The Panthers are seven points out of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference after earning its fourth win in 15 games – a 3-1 triumph against Arizona on Thursday.

“They want to be in the playoffs and I know the picture doesn’t look good,” Rowe told reporters Thursday. “We’re not thinking that way. We think we have a chance to do it.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network, WGN (Chicago), FSN Florida

ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (48-20-6): Goalie Corey Crawford rebounded from a rough outing to turn aside 42 shots Thursday and reach 30 victories for the fourth straight season. Captain Jonathan Toews also recorded an assist to extend his point streak to six games in which he scored three goals and set up four others. Veteran Marian Hossa owns goals in back-to-back games and fellow forward Richard Panik reached 20 tallies for the first time in his career with a pair in the last three contests.

ABOUT THE PANTHERS (32-30-11): Left wing Jonathan Marchessault continues to add to his career-best season with a pair of goals Thursday to push his team-leading total to 25 and Rowe told reporters, “He’s probably the purest goal scorer we have.” Center Vincent Trocheck leads the team with 50 points, but posted only one in the last five games while Aleksander Barkov moved within two points of Trocheck after registering three the last four contests. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad missed Thursday’s game with a neck injury and is questionable.

OVERTIME

1. Florida RW Jaromir Jagr recorded four assists in his last four games to push his career point total to 1,909.

2. Chicago D Trevor van Riemsdyk posted an assist in three consecutive contests and is one shy of matching his career high of 11 set last season.

3. The Panthers are 1-for-11 on the power play over the last five games and are 25th in the league (16.4 percent).

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