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SNOWED UNDER: Panthers Battle but Get Crushed 6-2 by Blackhawks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

CHICAGO -- In a bit of role reversal, the Panthers came into United Center winners of two straight all while the defending Stanley Cup champs had dropped its previous three games.

Order has been restored.

The Blackhawks scored twice in the opening 10 minutes and rolled to a 6-2 win over the Panthers. Florida hasn't won three straight games all season.

"We put a lot of energy into coming back, but you can't give up goals so early,'' Brian Campbell said. "They have skilled players, but if you're going to give them shots up the middle, they're going to score.''

Chicago grabbed a 3-0 lead just 37 seconds into the second period when Marian Hossa scored, but the Panthers showed life and a bit of fight in battling back.

Defenseman Dylan Olsen, who came to the Panthers in the Kris Versteeg deal with the Hawks, scored Florida's first goal 4:05 into the second period by sending a puck into the right corner past backup goalie Antti Raanta.

Raanta was pressed into service when two-time Cup champ Cory Crawford went down with injury in the first. Folks aren't going to forget about Crawford anytime soon.

Florida picked up its second goal and made the score 3-2 when Marcel Goc picked off Raanta's weak clearing pass, charged in and whipped a shot home.

The Panthers couldn't find the equalizer, however, and didn't do much with a power play chance not long after Goc pulled Florida within a goal.

Chicago, however, would cash in late in the second when Michal Handzus knocked a lost puck into the net. Scott Clemmensen, finally filling in for Tim Thomas, dropped the puck onto the ice and both he and Olsen couldn't locate it. Handzus did, depositing it into the back of the net.

Andrew Shaw made it 5-2 with Chicago's third power play goal of the night after Drew Sharp's shot clipped him on the way past Clemmensen. Brandon Saad scored Chicago's final goal late in the period, one the Panthers outshot their hosts 18-10 yet were outscored 2-0.

"I don't think we very good to start the game,'' coach Peter Horachek said. "To come back in this building against that team is difficult. Playing back-to-back isn't an excuse.''

Thomas had been the only goalie to play for Horachek who took over for the fired Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8. Thomas had made 14 straight starts in net for the Panthers although Clemmensen stepped in Sunday and made his first start since Nov. 7 in Boston -- Dineen's final game behind the bench.

Clemmensen is 0-2-1 in five games and made 26 saves.

"We had to give him a break along the way,'' Horachek said of Thomas. "He deserves that. Tim has done a good job for us, won a big game for us [Saturday]. He needed a breather.''

HELLO KRIS

As was the case Saturday in Stephen Weiss' first game against Florida since leaving the Panthers, Versteeg wasn't much of a factor against his former mates.

Versteeg did find the scoresheet, however, assisting on Chicago's final goals. Versteeg spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers and was traded back to the Hawks a week after Horachek took over.

"It was weird,'' Versteeg said afterward. "I have a lot of friends there on and off the ice. It was tough for me to leave. Obviously I came back to a great situation, but in the end, it's a business. I had a great run.''

-- Florida, which won at Detroit for just the third time in franchise history on Saturday, has lost three straight in Chicago and has been outscored 13-3 in those losses.

-- Saturday's win was Florida's first within the revamped Atlantic Division. The Panthers competed in the Atlantic from 1993-98, with their previous Atlantic win coming near the end of their final season at Miami Arena.

Florida was the last team in the NHL to claim a divisional victory.

 

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