TAMPA – Richard Panik will sit after oversleeping Thursday morning and Corey Crawford will get the start when the Blackhawks face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Panik did get on the ice late — well after line rushes — but will be out of the lineup. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will dress seven defensemen for the game.
Jiri Sekac, who the Blackhawks acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Ryan Garbutt, will probably not arrive in Florida in time for Thursday's game. Quenneville said Sekac “could” play on Friday when the Blackhawks face the Florida Panthers.
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As for Thursday's game, the Blackhawks come in with their franchise-best 12-game winning streak and the Lightning sport a six-game winning streak.
“It’s fun. The atmosphere has been fun and the enthusiasm going into games has been great. During games as well,” Quenneville said of the streak. “Guys like playing big games. At the same time this stretch of games, this [Tampa Bay] team’s playing as well as anyone we’ve faced. It’s good a challenge, a good test and we have some history with them as well. It’ll be an exciting game from that point of view.”
The Lightning brass is dealing with young forward Jonathan Drouin, who was suspended indefinitely after failing to report for a Syracuse Crunch game on Wednesday. General manager Steve Yzerman said, “I’ve told both Jonathan and his agent [Alan Walsh] that we will trade him if and when we can make a deal that is good for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since then, nothing has changed.”
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Tampa Bay’s players, however, are firmly focused on the Blackhawks, who thwarted them in the Stanley Cup Final and who come in on the hottest streak of their franchise. The Lightning struggled earlier this season but has been on a roll itself lately. They know tonight will be a test.
“Obviously we had a slow start but as the season went on, getting all the guys back healthy and playing helped this team,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Now we only look forward. We had a good start to the New Year and want to keep that going but we have the toughest possible opponent tonight. It’s a big challenge. Both teams want to keep their streaks alive but only one can do it, so we’ll do our best to make sure it’s us.”