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Joel Quenneville returns as Blackhawks host Panthers

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The ‘stache is back!

NHL: OCT 18 Coyotes at Blackhawks Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the Blackhawks final game before a lengthy layoff, Chicago welcomes back one of the franchise’s most familiar faces, as former head coach Joel Quenneville brings his new team — the Florida Panthers — to the United Center for his first game in Chicago since being fired Nov. 6, 2018.

Quenneville’s new team sounds a lot like the one he inherited when he took over the Blackhawks early in the ‘08-09 season: a roster loaded with young talent looking to take the next step in their collective careers. Jonathan Huberdeau leads the the NHL’s top-scoring team (3.67 goals per game), running away with the team lead in points at 64 (18 goals, 46 assists). Aleksander Barkov, another top-liner, has 16 goals and 37 assists while the team’s leading goal scorer, Evgenii Dadonov, has 22 tallies this season.

On the blue line, veteran Keith Yandle is providing an offensive punch with 39 points while young phenom Aaron Ekblad handles the highest average ice time on the team at 22:54.

In a complete reversal of Quenneville’s time in Chicago, Florida’s special teams are also offensive-minded. The power play is ranked sixth in the League at a 24.3-percent conversion rate, but the penalty kill is 23rd at 78.2. That’s indicative of one of Florida’s biggest issues this season: keeping pucks out of the net. The Panthers have given up 160 goals this season, good for 25th in the league.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a massive free agent deal in the summer, has dismal numbers: .897 save percentage, 3.25 goals-against average, minus-12.03 goals saved above average. He surrendered four goals against the Minnesota Wild on Monday night, but Florida’s offense scored five times to make him a winner. An injury to backup Chris Driedger (who’d been posting better numbers than Bobrovsky at .932 SA% and 2.35 GAA) means Bobrovsky could get the net again in Florida’s final game before a long break of their own. If not, 23-year-old Sam Montembeault would make just the 16th start of his NHL career.

Florida enters this game on a five-game winning streak and 11-4 stretch that has it sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division with 59 points, firmly in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. The Blackhawks are in a similar spot in the Western Conference but are currently on the outside looking in with 54 points. But an identical five-game winning streak and 11-4 stretch has Chicago thinking playoffs as well.

The only news from the morning skate was of a dust-up between captain Jonathan Toews and veteran Duncan Keith. Toews called it “friendly wrestling” and it doesn’t appear to be anything worth worrying about beyond this morning.

On the ice, Toews is enjoying a wildly productive stretch and Keith is part of a blue line with improved play that has helped Chicago catapult itself into playoff contention again. Robin Lehner will get the nod in net tonight and should be busy with the potent offense Florida brings to the rink each game.

Two teams fighting for a playoff spot while riding five-game winning streaks should already be enough to make for a lively atmosphere at the United Center this evening. Add in the return of a beloved coach who guided the team through its most successful era and it’s hard to understate how much of a buzz will exist inside the stadium. But, once the puck drops and the video tribute — and ensuing standing ovation — is over, two crucial points will be on the line between teams that desperately need them. The Blackhawks delivered on Sunday night in a game they needed. Can they do it again in this one?

Only one way to find out.

Let’s go Hawks!

Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers

48.2% (23rd) — Corsi For — 50.17% (15th)

46.8% (26th) — Expected goals for — 49.1% (21st)

3.00 (18th) — Goals per game — 3.67 (1st)

3.06 (16th) — Goals against per game — 3.27 (25th)

15.3% (27th) — Power play — 24.3% (6th)

83.1% (6th) — Penalty kill — 78.2% (23rd)

Lineups

Blackhawks

Kubalik — Toews — Caggiula

Saad — Carpenter — Kane

DeBrincat — Dach — Kampf

Nylander — Smith — Highmore

Keith — Boqvist

Gustafsson — Murphy

Maatta — Koekkoek

Lehner

Crawford

Panthers

HuberdeauBarkov — Dadonov

Connolly — Trocheck — Acciari

Vatrano — Toninato — Hoffman

Sceviour — Boyle — Pysyk

Matheson — Ekblad

Stillman — Stralman

Yandle — Brown

Montembeault

Bobrovsky

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Live stream: NBC Sports app