CHICAGO – The Panthers bus, like every other commuter on the streets, got stuck in horrific traffic Friday night because of a major snow storm. The team was late arriving to United Center, thus delaying the start of their game with the Blackhawks.
By the end of the first period, the Blackhawks had made quick work of the struggling and slumping Panthers. Chicago got goals from Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith in the final 2:20 of the opening period and held on for a 3-1 win in front of an announced 21,777 who braved the elements to enjoy Friday's win at the 'Madhouse on Madison.'
Florida remains tied with the Capitals with 52 points atop the Southeast Division, although both teams are in danger of being outside the final eight in the Eastern Conference due to recent play. The Panthers have dropped eight straight (0-4-4) away from home and 10 of 13 overall.
Winnipeg, which plays host to the road weary Panthers on Saturday, are three points away from the top spot in the division despite winning just three of nine this month.
Indeed. Florida once held a nice lead on both the Capitals and Jets but have since crashed back to earth.
Despite having three of their injured forwards back Friday, the Panthers only created a few offensive chance while the Blackhawks seemed to sit back and beat Jose Theodore when the opportunity arose.
Toews' opening goal with 2:20 left in the first came on a breakaway after a Stephen Weiss shot was cleared around the boards. Chicago's third goal came in similar fashion when Patrick Kane scored his first in eight games by picking off a loose puck, blowing past Dmitry Kulikov and firing high on Theodore.
Keith's goal came on a 55-foot slap shot from just inside the blueline with 16.4 seconds left in the first.
The Panthers' lone goal came early in the third when Jason Garrison picked up his 13th of the year – all from around the same spot – as he slapped in a Kulikov feed from 50 feet back.
Florida welcomed back three forwards as Scottie Upshall, Jack Skille and Sean Bergenheim all returned after lengthy absences.
To make room for that trio, Michal Repik was sent back to the minors on Friday. Mike Santorelli and Matt Bradley, who got his face busted up courtesy of a Colorado stick on Wednesday, were the healthy scratches.
“I'm really excited to get back out there and it's going to be a great opportunity to get the speed back,'' said Upshall, who suffered a sports hernia/hip injury way back on Nov. 10. “This is a big game for all of us.''
DELAY OF GAME
The Blackhawks pushed back the start of Friday's game 30 minutes after the Panthers bus got stuck in traffic. According to Santorelli and Bradley, the bus didn't get to the arena until 6:40 local time. The game was scheduled to start at 7:30.
Instead, the puck didn't drop until 8:08 CST.
The Panthers were told they could fly to Winnipeg following Friday's game.