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Blackhawks-Panthers Preview

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 3:48 AM

Associated Press

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Blackhawks-Panthers Preview
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Florida Panthers

Led by 20-year-old Patrick Kane and 21-year-old Jonathan Toews on their front line, the Chicago Blackhawks shouldn't have trouble scoring in 2009-10.

It's protecting leads and avoiding defensive breakdowns that is a bigger concern, and those mistakes proved costly in the opener.

The Blackhawks try to bounce back from a season-opening loss to the Florida Panthers when the teams complete a two-game series in Helsinki, Finland on Saturday.

After making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1995 last season, Chicago has high expectations for 2009-10.

With Kane, Toews and veteran Patrick Sharp leading the way, the Blackhawks finished tied for fourth in the league last season with 260 goals. The offense is expected to be one of the best in the NHL again this season, and it looked strong in Friday's season-opening 4-3 shootout loss to the Panthers.

Kane had a goal and an assist, Toews scored in the shootout and Sharp scored in regulation for Chicago, which fired 55 shots on Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun - including 24 in the third period.

While the offense didn't seem to skip a beat from last season, the defense was a little sluggish, allowing the Panthers to come back from three separate one-goal deficits.

One of the Blackhawks' biggest questions in the offseason was whether goaltender Cristobal Huet, in the second-year of a 4-year, $24.45 million deal, could give the team what they got from top goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in 2008-09. Huet didn't do much to silence his critics in the opener.

Huet finished with 21 saves, but seemed to struggle down the stretch, stopping five of seven shots in the third and allowing both of Florida's shootout participants - Steven Reinprecht and Ville Koistinen - to score.

"I thought we played pretty good, just a couple of breakdowns there that cost us," Kane said. "It's the first game of the season so you can learn from different things like this and move on. We're going to get better."

Finnish defender Koistinen also scored in regulation, but it was his backhander in the shootout that gave the local fans a thrill in the first NHL game on Finnish ice.

"I was not really sure that the puck was in," Koistinen said. "I looked at the referee, and he acknowledged it. This is quite unbelievable, to do this in a game before a home crowd in my home country."

The shootout victory was a big step forward for a Florida team that went 3-7 in such situations last season - a major reason it missed the playoffs by a single point.

"The shootouts are a big part of the NHL today," said Vokoun, who stopped a career-high 52 shots. "Last year we did badly in them, but hopefully our results are better this year."

Vokoun won for the seventh time in his last nine starts against the Blackhawks, and will try to help the Panthers open a season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2005-06.

2009-2010 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Oct 03 '09 CHI 4 at FLA 0 B. Campbell
Oct 02 '09 FLA 4 at CHI 3 - SO V. Koistinen
P. Kane2224+3200
P. Sharp2213+2010
D. Byfuglien2213+1010
B. Seabrook2033+0000
B. Campbell2112+1011
K. Versteeg2022+0000
D. Bolland2011+1000
N. Hjalmarsson2011+1200
D. Keith2011+0000
J. Toews2000+2000
B. Sopel2000+0000
J. Madden2000+0200
T. Kopecky2000+0000
B. Eager2000+0000
C. Barker2000+0000
A. Ladd2000-1000
C. Fraser2000-2000
T. Brouwer2000-2400
A. Niemi11-0-00230.001.000
C. Huet10-0-13242.77.875
M. Frolik2112+0200
V. Koistinen2101+1200
D. Booth2101+0000
D. Seidenberg2011+1000
C. Stillman2011+0200
S. Reinprecht2011-1000
S. Weiss2000+0000
K. Ballard2000+0000
N. Horton2000+0000
K. Kreps2000+0000
S. Matthias2000+0000
B. McCabe2000-1200
R. Dvorak2000-1200
B. Allen2000-1400
J. Leopold2000-1000
G. Campbell2000-1000
R. Olesz2000-1000
D. Kulikov2000-1200
T. Vokoun21-1-07883.36.920