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SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) – While the Florida Panthers continue fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, their opponent on Thursday night has a similar battle ahead of them.
The Chicago Blackhawks are clinging to third place in the Central Division, but staying there could prove difficult without the services of Patrick Kane.
In their first game since losing Kane for what appears to be the season, the visiting Blackhawks try to sweep a home-and-home set against the Panthers on Thursday night.
Chicago’s Stanley Cup hopes took a big blow after Kane underwent surgery to repair a broken left collarbone suffered in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Panthers. The two-time Olympian is expected to miss roughly 12 weeks, leaving him sidelined until the Western Conference finals.
Getting there, though, won’t be easy without the superstar forward. The Blackhawks (36-20-5) are four points ahead of fourth-place Winnipeg, which occupies the top wild-card spot in the conference.
“I don’t think you replace the things that he does with the puck, the attention he gets,” teammate Patrick Sharp said. “But one of the strengths of our organization is depth. When a player goes down, you try to collectively try to fill in for him. But you know, as well, as you can’t replace Kaner.”
Kane leads the team with 27 goals and 37 assists, giving him an NHL best-tying 64 points.
“You miss a valuable guy, a buddy,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s having one of those years that are very noticeable. But the guys still got to stick with it. Playing the right way will be emphasized as we go along.”
Chicago placed Kane on long-term injured reserve Wednesday and recalled forward Teuvo Teravainen, regarded as one of the NHL’s top prospects. He had two goals and two assists in 15 games earlier this season before getting sent back down to Rockford on Feb. 12.
Teravainen will reportedly play on one of the Blackhawks’ top three lines as they try to build on their first win in four games. Captain Jonathan Toews scored his 18th goal and again in the shootout as Chicago regrouped after blowing a 2-0 lead.
“That’s a big two points,” Quenneville said. “As a group, we’ve got to make sure everybody plays the right way, plays tighter, and has some responsibility to their games. We’ve got to look to play tight, low-scoring games.”
Rookie Scott Darling finished with 34 saves in his first appearance in over two months, improving to 6-2-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average. The Blackhawks could turn back to Corey Crawford, who’s posted a 3.83 GAA during a three-start losing streak, but is 3-0-0 with a 1.18 GAA in his last four appearances against Florida.
Chicago has limited the Panthers to nine goals during a six-game winning streak in the series. Toews has recored at least one point in each of those victories, totaling four goals and five assists.
Florida (26-21-13) returns home having dropped three straight and six of eight, a stretch during which it’s averaged 1.4 goals while going 2 for 23 on the power play. The Panthers came up empty on three chances Tuesday, but they were still pleased after rallying to force overtime.
“The comeback definitely, the point, was huge when you’re down 2-0 to a team like that,” said forward Vincent Trocheck, who scored the equalizer with 3:29 to go in regulation. “We didn’t have any doubt we could come back in that game. The third period showed we had a lot of character.”
Roberto Luongo stopped 36 shots, dropping to 5-8-4 with a 2.70 GAA over a 17-start stretch. However, he’s 3-0-2 with a 1.74 mark in his last five at home.
Luongo is 1-2-2 despite a 2.13 GAA in his last five appearances against Chicago.
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