Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois | When: 8:30 PM EDT
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: Sun Sports, NHL Network (US) | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Second City Hockey, The Committed Indian
The 2014-15 champions of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference face each other for the first time since June, when the Lightning fell to the Blackhawks (score) and conceded Lord Stanley's Cup to them. Since that time, the Blackhawks have been active in the transaction column (as well as the he-did-what?! column) to retool the team under the salary cap. Patrick Sharp was moved to Dallas, Anders Nilsson was dealt to Edmonton, a whole crap-load of players were signed to extensions and what not (view the full transactions here), Patrick Kane was... oh, let's not even go there. Suffice it to say, the NHL Champions have been retooled.
The Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning and their off-season: Besides bubble players back in the AHL (Jonathan Marchessault) a single player signed (Erik Condra) with another left to walk away (Brenden Morrow), there have been no changes to the Bolts. It's almost entirely the same team as last season's Stanley Cup Final. In fact, it's an odd coincidence that they'll once again play as a tuckered-out bunch who are playing while taxed (seeing they played last night in Winnipeg) and go at it again at United Center.
It's much of the status-quo in the Tampa Bay lineup and locker room... Well, there is one change of note from late-late spring: the Lightning goalie situation. The blood clot surgery on Andrei Vasilevskiy in early September threw a monkey in the works for the Lightning's intended starting tandem. Throw in Kristers Gudlevskis injury sustained during rookie camp play and things got odd. When Ray Emery didn't work out as a backup candidate during preseason play, Kevin Poulin was claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders, Gudlevskis was returned to the minors and Vasilevskiy was left to mend.
Poulin has never received a moment of play with the Lightning, and that seems to be the intention - don't play Poulin - for tonight. It was reported yesterday that Gudlevskis wasn't playing in Syracuse last night, and this morning word went out that Kristers had indeed been recalled by Tampa Bay. As of this writing it hasn't been disclosed if he'd start the game or not, but it seems more than likely with his recall. Gudlevskis in 2 starts for the Syracuse Crunch this season has a 2.00 GAA and a .930 save percentage.
Injuries causing changes isn't just a case for the Bolts: Duncan Keith is out for 4 - 6 weeks after undergoing knee surgery. The Blackhawks are in the back of the pack in the Central Division right now: 4-3-0 in 7 games played, having a plus-1 goal differential too. The Central Division has a ten dance to be a dog-fight, so while they may be next-to-last at the moment, I don't expect that to keep them from contending this season.