The last time the Florida Panthers were in town it required a police escort to get the visitors’ bus to the UC, due to heavy snow. That was in January 2012 and Kris Versteeg spoke of his emotion on his first sight of the Stanley Cup banner that he had helped to win. The Hawks won 3-1 that night.

We’ll that was then and this is now. Versteeg is once more a Hawk and there’s a new Cup banner hanging in the rafters. The Panthers roll into town 3rd last in the Eastern Conference, 12 points adrift of a Wild Card slot. So they’re pretty much dead and buried, then.

That said, this cat is not without  claws: they’ve recently beaten Vancouver, Colorado, Detroit and Minnesota and the Hawks needed a shootout to take 2 points in Florida earlier this season. They have some excellent young talent in Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, they picked up two useful players in Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes in return for Versteeg and of course our old friends Campbell and Kopecky are still around and, in Campbell’s case, pretty much the leader of this team. Tim Thomas played in the win over Detroit last night so chances are Scott Clemmenson of the 3.08 GAA and 0.879 Sv% gets the start in goal.

For once Chicago will be facing a team with a PK as putrid as theirs: Florida are ranked 28th at 76.4%. Their PP, however, is significantly worse than the Hawks, also 28th in the League.  Outside of the kids, there really isn’t much to this Panthers team. Tonight would be an excellent night to get back to winning ways for the Hawks.

The news for the Blackhawks is the return of Andrew Shaw from injury. I’m guessing he returns to 3rd line Center duties flanked by Morin & Versteeg. The other significant news, as I write, is that Michael Kostka has been recalled from Rockford & activated from IR. We’ve been anticpating him getting another go with the big club, so this isn’t surprising. However, clearly someone is going to have to make way for him (and no idea when he’s expected back in to the lineup). Spolier Alert: it’ll be Jeremy Morin.

I would rather have seen Raanta get another go against a team with far fewer weapons than the Ducks, but that’s never been Q’s way, so it’s Crawford in net tonight. This is the sort of occasion when Hossa, Toews & Sharp should lay waste to their opposing numbers which, in turn, should see Kane & Saad feasting on the scraps. It would be nice to get a good win ahead of a tricky assignment in Dallas on Wednesday.

Finally, if you’re going to the game, please, please don’t boo Brian Campbell. He was a star and a gentleman when he played for the Hawks: his contract and the handling of his departure were nothing to do with him, and at no point did he ever quit on this team. So play nice, hey?

 

OK. Puck drops at 6, Nakis, Bartl & JMH are loading up on beer, grilled meats, more beer, snowy football games and yet more beer ahead of tonight’s podcast recap. Technology is great, eh?