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Blackhawks still looking for first victory against Panthers

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Chicago is 0-2-1 against Florida this season after Saturday’s 4-2 loss

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Florida Panthers
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Hagel pushes Florida Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Blackhawks are now 2-6-3 against the top three teams — the Lightning, Hurricanes and Panthers — in the Central Division. They have yet to beat the Panthers, their current opponent. They have just one point through the first three games against Florida, earned when Chicago scored four goals in an overtime loss during its fourth game of the season.

A playoff team has to beat good teams to remain in the playoffs. The Blackhawks have not demonstrated that ability, at least not consistently.

The Panthers are now on a three-game winning streak, winning five of their last six games. While their best goaltender through February has faded — Chris Driedger has dropped to a .877 save percentage in the month of March — Sergei Bobrovsky is bouncing back. He certainly did against the Blackhawks in game one of this series, as he saved 30 of the Blackhawks’ 32 shots. News from the morning skate has Bobrovsky back in net for Monday’s game.

It’s not like the Blackhawks didn’t get quality chances on Saturday. They created 2.25 expected goals for, the most they’ve tallied since a Feb. 27 game against Detroit. But they also allowed more than they created at 2.68 expected goals against. The Blackhawks have yet to beat the Panthers in expected goals, high-danger chances or shots on goal at 5-on-5 this season. In short, Chicago is struggling mightily against the Panthers and that continued on Saturday.

The Blackhawks have been one of the worst possession teams in the league this season — at 5-on-5 they’re 31st in expected goals for percent — and the Panthers have been one of the best. The Blackhawks can’t move the puck well and the Panthers have exploited that throughout the first three games of the series. Chicago has a lot of work to do, and some of it is against Florida.

It doesn’t help that the Blackhawks have the second-worst save percentage in the division against Florida (they’re currently sitting at .861, the Lightning are at .857). When a team rides their goaltending as much as the Blackhawks do, having those goaltenders give up at least four goals in each of the first three games is gonna sting. But the Blackhawks have to be better at creating offense — that 2.25 mark is the first time the Blackhawks have created more than two expected goals at 5-on-5 against Florida (the other games were 1.39 and 1.69).

However, there is hope for the Blackhawks — the power play is averaging 5:15 per game against the Panthers, and they had eight minutes on Saturday. If the Panthers are going to keep giving the Chicago power play opportunities, the Hawks’ man advantage will eventually score. That’s been proven a few times this season. They may need to do it again in Monday’s game, as the 5-on-5 lines have struggled so far.

Tale of the tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers

46.49% (30th) — Corsi For — 52.23% (8th)

45.25% (31st) — Expected goals for — 53.87% (6th)

3.00 (14th) — Goals per game — 3.41 (2nd)

3.10 (19th) — Goals against per game — 2.81 (12th)

46.4 (27th) — Faceoffs — 49.8% (19th)

29.6% (3rd) — Power play — 25.6% (8th)

74.4% (24th) — Penalty kill — 78.8% (16th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Kurashev — Kane

Janmark — Soderberg — Suter

Kubalik — Kampf — Hagel

Highmore — Wallmark — Carpenter

Keith — Boqvist

de Haan — Murphy

Zadorov — Mitchell

Lankinen/Subban

Panthers

Marchment — Barkov — Verhaeghe

Huberdeau — Wennberg — Hornqvist

Vatrano — Luostarinen — Tippett

Acciari — Lammikko — Duclair

Weegar — Ekblad

Yandle — Stralman

Forsling — Gudas

Bobrovsky/Driedger

How to watch

When: 6:00 p.m.

Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Live stream: NHL.tv, NBC Sports app