Time is rapidly running out on the 2016-17 regular season. A return to the playoffs this spring requires points, and the Stars are behind the curve in that regard. They need two points against the Hawks, a team they’ve come up short against in three previous meetings this season.
“We’ve had some missed opportunities against this team,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We had a chance in overtime in their building but couldn’t put a game away and didn’t get it done. There’s been opportunities, but we haven’t quite got it done.”
The coach went on to say that a win tonight was “almost a must,” adding “…it has been a real good segment of hockey [of late], but we need more points.”
Ruff is exactly right: The Stars are four points behind the Los Angeles Kings, occupiers of the second Wild Card spot, but three teams (St. Louis, Winnipeg and Vancouver) stand between them and the final playoff position. With 30 games remaining, and just two of those against the teams immediately ahead of them, the Stars must string together some wins now to avoid losing control of their postseason fate.
If a win streak is in the offing, it needs to start tonight. “It’s a huge game against a really good team,” said Stars forward Devin Shore. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to put ourselves into position to get two points. We’re right in the thick of things with the playoff push so this game is big, not only to put points up in the standings but, if we’re able to get a win against a great team, that’s good for our confidence and our team morale going into a road trip.”
Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:00 pm CST
Broadcast channels – NHLN-US, FS-SW, WGN
2016-17 Season Series: November 5 – Blackhawks 3, Stars 2
November 6 – Blackhawks 4, Stars 3 (OT)
December 11 – Blackhawks 3, Stars 1
Chicago Blackhawks: 31-17-5 – 67 Points
Road Record: 13-10-1
Hot Players: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Richard Panik, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook
Key Injuries: Michal Rozsival
Nick Schmaltz – Jonathan Toews – Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin – Artem Anisimov – Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen – Marcus Kruger – Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman – Tanner Kero – Jordin Tootoo
Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Gustav Forsling – Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Dallas Stars: 21-21-10 – 52 Points
Home Record: 14-8-6
Hot Players: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Eaves and John Klingberg
Key Injuries: Jason Spezza, Johnny Oduya, Jamie Oleksiak, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Eaves
Devin Shore – Radek Faksa – Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel – Tyler Seguin – Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie – Adam Cracknell – Lauri Korpikoski
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Patrik Nemeth
Jordie Benn – Stephen Johns
1) With Jason Spezza out, look for Brett Ritchie to slide up the lineup, onto Tyler Seguin’s wing. Ruff indicated after practice Friday that he was pleased with the play of the Stars’ top two lines and was reluctant to break them up, so moving Ritchie into Spezza’s spot makes the most sense. The Stars didn’t take part in line rushes at today’s morning skate, though, so all lines are TBD.
2) Goalies across the NHL should appear a bit slimmer tonight, as they’ll all be wearing the league-mandated “form-fitting” pants. Kari Lehtonen seemed somewhat less-than-enthused about the change and he looks like the starter tonight, so we’ll see how his game is impacted, if at all.
3) As expected, the Chicago media contingent was particularly interested in talking to Patrick Sharp this morning. Among other questions, the Stars’ sniper was asked about speculation he could return to the Blackhawks via trade before the March 1 deadline. Sharp dismissed the trade talk, saying he’s focused on winning with the Stars. The reality of the situation is that, while Sharp might well be moved before March 1, the Hawks don’t have the cap room to take him, even if the Stars retain half his salary.
4) Speaking of Sharp…The veteran’s influence on linemate Devin Shore extends beyond their play on a line with Radek Faksa. A couple of days ago, Sharp was interviewed by Mike Heika and they discussed the way he tapes his stick, among other topics. After the morning skate, your semi-sentient correspondent noticed the tape on Shore’s stick looked very familiar. When asked, the rookie didn’t hesitate to say he’d been taping it that way for “about a week,” and credited Sharp with the change.
5) Tonight’s meeting might well be a case of the Stars catching the Blackhawks at just the right time. While the home team is scoring more of late, averaging 3.40 goals per game over their last 10 contests, the visitors have seemingly sprung a leak, allowing 3.40 goals per game in their last 10. Though the Hawks sit comfortably in second place in the Central Division, they’re just 5-5-0 over that span.