Lightning coach happy for Chicago Blackhawks' Panik

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was out to dinner in Chicago on Monday when suddenly a couple of drinks arrived at his table courtesy of Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.

"I thought, 'How would he know I was here?'" said Cooper, whose Lightning was in town to play the Hawks on Tuesday. "And I turn around and he was sitting two tables behind me with his wife."

Cooper and Panik's relationship goes back five years when they won a Calder Cup championship together with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals in 2012. Panik scored 19 goals and 22 assists that season as a 20-year-old in his first pro season.

"We ended up having a magical year in the minors together," Cooper said. "So you're always cheering for these guys regardless of where they go."

Panik ended up playing 75 games for the Lightning over two seasons, but he was placed on waivers and claimed by Toronto on Oct. 9, 2014. After a topsy-turvy year-and-a-half with the Maple Leafs, the Hawks traded Jeremy Morin for Panik on Jan. 3, 2016.

In 79 games with the Hawks, Panik has scored 17 goals. This season he has become a versatile, more consistent asset coach Joel Quenneville can move up and down the lineup.

Cooper is thrilled at the player Panik is becoming.

"It just took him a little bit longer than some other guys," Cooper said. "He's an electrifying player and he can just do some things with the puck I haven't seen other guys be able to do. …

"I saw him this summer and his whole approach to the game now, it's developed. You can tell. He probably learned a lot of that from playing here in Chicago. I'm really happy for him. He deserves this."

That's better:

In four games since returning from Rockford, forward Nick Schmaltz has impressed coach Joel Quenneville.

"He's got more speed, has the puck more, he's looking to shoot, he's been dangerous offensively and improved defensively," Quenneville said. "That awareness is something we like to see. His ice time hasn't been great, but he's certainly taking advantage of the minutes he's had."

Schmaltz had a goal and an assist at Colorado on Jan. 17. He averaged just 0.62 shots on goal in his first 26 games but has averaged 1.5 in the last four.

Sick bay:

Dennis Rasmussen was sick and missed the Hawks' morning skate Tuesday, but he was able to play against Tampa Bay. Marcus Kruger, out since Dec. 30 with an upper-body injury, sat out again but may have been able to go if Rasmussen was forced to sit.

Coach Joel Quenneville is hoping Kruger can return Thursday when the Hawks play Winnipeg in their final game before the all-star break.

Slap shots:

Of Marian Hossa's 18 goals, 11 have come in the third period or overtime. The Hawks are 15-0-1 when Hossa scores. … Going into Tuesday, the Hawks were 0-for-9 on the power play in the last five games. They also have just 3 PP goals in the last 11 games. … Michal Rozsival and Jordin Tootoo were the healthy scratches against the Lightning.

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