Blackhawks’ Best Force a Split Series With Stars

Back in early February, in the midst of changing the narrative of their rebuilding season, the Chicago Blackhawks did everything right en route to sweeping their first series with the Dallas Stars. Their power play converted, they were stellar short-handed, their goaltending was outstanding, and they capitalized in extra time to secure back-to-back victories.

Carl Soderberg, Chicago Blackhawks
Carl Soderberg of the Chicago Blackhawks, during their first set of 2020-21 against the Dallas Stars. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

The same can’t be said of their second series, unfortunately. While the Blackhawks had an opportunity to extend the gap between the two in the standings, splitting these two games means they are no further ahead. Yet, it also wasn’t the worst possible outcome.

Game Day Results

Entering the weekend with a record of 14-9-5, good for 33 points, the Blackhawks find themselves sitting in fourth and owning the last playoff position with the Discover Central Division. The Stars, on the other hand, are now 8-9-5. Dallas only has 21 points, placing them second last in the division, but they also have six games in hand on Chicago.

The Scores

March 9 @ Dallas Stars: 6-1 (L)
March 11 @ Dallas Stars: 4-2 (W)

These clubs will reunite in early April, but it’ll then be Chicago that finally plays host after four in a row between the two in Dallas. Assuming both are still battling for a playoff berth, that third series could certainly be even more pivotal than their first two.

Subban’s Stats Slip

Letting in six goals is not usually a foreshadow of a successfully game summary. And the same can be said of Malcolm Subban’s story from his eighth game of the season. He now owns a record of 4-3-1 with a save percentage (SV%) of .907 and a goals against average (GAA) of 3.04.

Prior to Tuesday, Subban had won four of his past five games, including a stellar showing against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. After beginning to build up a solid resume to suggest he was the clear go-to as a dependable backup for Chicago, adding a 6-1 loss wasn’t an ideal turn of events.

With that said, despite the half-dozen goals against that resulted in his .838 SV% on the night, the score doesn’t outline all the relevant details. While you hope your goalie can give you a chance to win, those in front of him have to do their jobs effectively for it to all come together, as well.

Tale of Two Special Teams Tapes

Despite the awful showing that this club put on display in Tuesday’s match, they were a different team come Thursday in a lot of ways. Known for their power play prowess and lackluster penalty kill heading into this set, the opposite was true to start the week. But they figured it out by the end.

Chicago has been credited with being one of the most prolific lineups with the extra man thus far throughout 2020-21, seemingly a danger to every opponent. Yet, going 0/2 in Tuesday’s match left Dallas off the hook where others typically get burnt by the Blackhawks.

They clearly made some adjustments for Thursday, as they were back to their dominant ways with the advantage. Converting on 2/5 attempts, the Blackhawks actually surpassed their season average of 30.95% to reach a 40% power play rate on the night.

“Big win. Important win. We knew they were going to be a desperate team again, so certainly wasn’t perfect but we found ways to defend. The special teams was big for us and Lanks made a couple big saves early, especially in the first period, that allowed us to take control of the game… We’ll take two really important points and carry on.”

– Head coach Jeremy Colliton

While they’ve enjoyed success on special teams in one regard all year long, the same isn’t true when they’re on the wrong side of it. One of the least effective in the league on the penalty kill, they went 66.67% on Tuesday — worse than their season average. Yet, they were 100% by the time Thursday’s buzzer concluded the contest.

Lankinen Regains His Spotlight

Speaking of goalie stats, not all of them were as difficult to digest following their second series with the Stars. Following a disappointing 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Lightning last weekend, Kevin Lankinen was surely eager to get back into Chicago’s crease and prove himself once again.

Kevin Lankinen, Chicago Blackhawks
Kevin Lankinen, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

In that loss, Lankinen didn’t appear like the potential rookie of the year candidate that he had become. Only stopping 33 of 39 for a SV% of .846, he was well below the averages he had made his norm. Was his run slowing down, or is this simply an exception to the rule?

Fortunately for both Lankinen and the Blackhawks, his dominance during Thursday’s 4-2 victory supports the latter. 28 saves on 30 attempts led to a .933 SV%, which brings his stats back up into the superstar territory he hopes to continue calling home.

Keith’s Patience Pays Off

Averaging nearly 24:00 minutes of ice time per night this season and known as a dependable producer on the blue line throughout his career, would you have guessed that Duncan Keith hadn’t yet tallied his first goal of the year? Well, that was true. But not anymore.

28 games into this current season, it’s actually been 36 since Keith last scored. A span of an entire calendar year. And what better way to change that stat than with a game-winner in the second of this two-game set, to ensure Chicago at least split the series with Dallas.

The 37-year-old continues to defy logic with what’s expected of him, especially while pairing with colleagues that are close to half his age. Time will tell how productive he can be on the scoresheet by season’s end, but what’s for certain is that Chicago needs him at his best if they hope to continue achieving all year long.

Up Next for Chicago

The Blackhawks now shift focus to their two-game rematch against the Florida Panthers. Florida won both of the previous contests between these clubs, scoring 10 goals along the way. However, that was early enough in the season that neither should expect to see the same type of opponent at this point in the 2020-21 schedule.

March is certainly going to continue being a challenging month for this Blackhawks squad, who should have a much better idea of exactly what and who they are by the end of it.

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