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CHICAGO (CBSMiami/AP) – The Florida Panthers will face a very tough test as they wrap up their 5-game road trip.
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville took a long look at his power play, then moved one goal to the corner of the ice and put his players through battle drills for a loose puck along the boards.
No one is pressing the panic button in Chicago, but the Blackhawks know they have to step up their play as they complete an already disappointing eight-game homestand Tuesday night in the front end of a home-and-home set with the playoff-hopeful Panthers.
“The `get attention’ button is where I’m at. … I got it pushed,” Quenneville said after Monday’s practice.
Chicago is 10-10-3 in 2015 after losing three in a row for the first time since last March. Defenseman Johnny Oduya left Sunday’s ugly 6-2 loss to Boston with an upper-body injury that will keep him out for a couple weeks, hurting an already shaky group of defensemen beyond the top three.
The Blackhawks (35-20-5) are 2-2-3 on their longest homestand of the season and five points back of second-place St. Louis in the Central Division.
“We can be better in a lot of areas,” said winger Patrick Sharp, who hasn’t scored in 12 games. “Whether you want to say effort, desperation, you name it. I know everybody in this locker room cares. Everyone is carrying it with us. We want to break out of this funk that we’re in.”
Sharp had team highs of 34 goals and 78 points last season, but he has struggled with 10 goals, 21 assists and a minus-13 rating in 46 games. He skated with Patrick Kane and Brad Richards on the second line in practice Monday, a combination that could help Sharp get untracked if Quenneville decides to stay with it for an extended period.
“I’m not too concerned right now with who I’m playing with when I go out there, what power play I’m on, you name it,” Sharp said. “I’m just concerned with myself getting back to playing as well as I can.”
Chicago made a couple of minor moves after the loss to Boston, promoting goaltender Scott Darling and forward Joakim Nordstrom from the minors and sending goalie Antti Raanta and forward Ryan Hartman to Rockford of the AHL.
The Blackhawks also announced a two-year extension for Darling, who gets the start against the Panthers (26-21-12). Darling is 5-2-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average in seven games with the Blackhawks.
Chicago has allowed 21 non-shootout goals during the homestand, but Quenneville downplayed any role that Oduya’s situation could play in the team’s decision-making ahead of next Monday’s trade deadline.
“We really don’t have much confidence right now, the way we’re playing,” forward Bryan Bickell said. “Our work ethic and our passion and all those little things, we need to bring every shift every game to make this team get over that hump and be better.”
The Panthers are having problems of their own during a 2-4-1 stretch. They lost 4-1 at Ottawa on Saturday and 5-1 in Pittsburgh on Sunday and sit three points back of Boston for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
“Guys in here realize that this time of year is when the men come out and the men play hockey,” said forward Scottie Upshall, who scored against the Penguins. “Every play is magnified and games are won by one-goal games and it’s the difference of one simple play. So you just have to be consistent and you have to realize the opportunity that it is.”
It’s unclear if former Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, who missed Sunday’s contest with an undisclosed injury, will be available as the Panthers complete a five-game road trip.
Roberto Luongo could be back in net after Al Montoya got the nod against Pittsburgh. Luongo is 4-2-2 with a 2.07 GAA in his last eight starts after falling to Ottawa.
Florida, which has lost five straight meetings, begins a seven-game homestand Thursday against Chicago.
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