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Penguins vs. Blackhawks preview: Can Pittsburgh rebound against NHL's hottest team?

By Jeff Arnold, The Sports Xchange
Penguins vs. Blackhawks preview: Can Pittsburgh rebound against NHL's hottest team?
Chicago Blackhawks center Vincent Hinostroza (48) skates pass Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz (4) in the third period of the Pens 1-0 win in their preseason game at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on September, 30 2016. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

CHICAGO -- The Pittsburgh Penguins coughed up a late lead Tuesday night, which likely won't put them in the best of moods heading into a Wednesday test against the NHL's hottest team.

The Penguins squandered a two-goal advantage in a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars and now must follow that up with a trip to Chicago to face the blazing Blackhawks, who have won nine of their last 10 games.

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Pittsburgh hasn't put up great numbers on the road and fell to 13-11-5 away from home. But it's most likely how the Penguins lost that will likely stick with them as they prepare for back-to-back games against Chicago.

"We're playing a really good team (Wednesday night), so it's going to be a challenge," defenseman Justin Schultz said Tuesday night. "It's good to get back at it."

Schultz said Tuesday's loss -- in which the Penguins surrendered three third-period goals will serve as a lesson learned moving forward.

"We just got outplayed," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We got to hang onto pucks, we got to play behind them. I don't think we managed the puck very well. I don't think we won enough puck battles and as a result, we let them come at us."

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The Penguins can't afford to dwell too long on Tuesday's result. Pittsburgh will face a Blackhawks team that has won four straight games and that has gotten plenty of production of late from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Yet, as well as the Blackhawks have played of late, they are dealing with some health issues. Goalie Corey Crawford will miss his second straight game due to illness. Scott Darling, who was stellar in net in Chicago's 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night, will make the start.

The Blackhawks will also play without defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is continuing to deal with an upper-body injury. Chicago shored up its defense a bit on Tuesday when they welcomed Johnny Oduya back into the fold after acquiring the former Blackhawk in a trade with Dallas.

Oduya returns to Chicago after being part of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship teams in 2013 and 2015. But even after bringing back a familiar face to spark the defense moving forward, the Blackhawks know they can't afford to take their health issues lightly.

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While the Blackhawks have been hit by more of a flu bug -- both with Crawford and right wing Jordin Tootoo -- a case of the mumps that has hit teams across the league is causing concern.

"You hear that word and you might get a little scared, but at the same time, we've had guys sick in here (with other ailments as well)," Kane told reporters Tuesday, according to CSN Chicago. "Throughout the whole year, you want to try to take care of yourself and keep yourself fresh. It's easier said than done."

Crawford practiced on Tuesday and coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford could have played Wednesday against Pittsburgh, but that he didn't want to take any chances. The Blackhawks will face the New York Islanders Friday and Quenneville isn't willing to take any chances with Crawford against Pittsburgh.

"We want him more than ready," Quenneville told reporters Tuesday. "He can play (Wednesday), but giving him another day or so to get his full energy back is what we're looking for."

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