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Penguins hit road after opening loss to face Blackhawks
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have combined to win six of the past nine Stanley Cup championships.
On Thursday night, both teams will seek their first victory of the 2017-18 campaign. Chicago (0-0-0) will open its season on home ice against Pittsburgh (0-0-1), which will play on short rest after a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
The Penguins will try to block out distractions after watching their 2017 Stanley Cup championship banner raised to the rafters before their season opener. Pittsburgh has won back-to-back championships and owns three titles since 2009, but the team's veterans know that past success does not guarantee another round of dominance.
"It's time to focus on a new season," Penguins forward Carl Hagelin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's kind of the end of a chapter, and it's time to create new memories."
The same holds true in Chicago, where coach Joel Quenneville's team faces some pressure to regain its stride after back-to-back, first-round playoff exits. The Blackhawks stormed to Stanley Cup titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and are eager to make another deep run.
Chicago will have to do so without future Hall of Fame forward Marian Hossa, who was officially placed on long-term injured reserve Wednesday because of a skin disorder. Hossa has 525 career goals and leaves a void on both sides of the ice, as well as the locker room.
The Blackhawks reacquired forward Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets for top-tier scorer Artemi Panarin during the offseason. Saad is a better two-way player who figures to soften the loss of Hossa while providing a boost to linemate Jonathan Toews.
"We're both feeling good about our game," Saad told the Chicago Tribune when asked about his chemistry with Toews. "We're both excited, and I know he's not happy with the way the season ended. We both have that hunger."
Corey Crawford is slated to start in net for the Blackhawks. Now in his eighth full season, the 32-year-old netminder has compiled 214 wins and a .918 save percentage in his career.
Against the Penguins, Crawford has been nearly flawless. He boasts a 6-1-0 record with a .946 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against average in seven career games.
Pittsburgh will counter with either Matt Murray or Antti Niemi starting between the pipes. Murray started Wednesday night against the Blues and gave up five goals on 34 shots.
Murray, 23, never has faced Chicago. Niemi, 34, is 8-10-1 with a .910 save percentage and a 2.85 GAA against the Blackhawks, with whom he won a championship in 2010.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang needs one more assist to join Paul Coffey as the only blue-liners in franchise history with at least 300 assists. Letang's season debut Wednesday night marked his first game since Feb. 21 as he recovered from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck.
Rookie playmaker Alex DeBrincat is expected to make his NHL debut for the Blackhawks. DeBrincat, 19, scored 65 goals in 63 games last season in the Ontario Hockey League.
Updated October 5, 2017