The most unfavorable part of the schedule for the Dallas Stars turned out to be quite a large series of back-to-back wins. Less than 24 hours after the start of their 5-4 win over the Washington Capitals, the Stars went into Chicago and put together a strong 6-3 team victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Stars looked like a tired team in the opening minutes, getting hemmed in their own end for three minutes at a stretch and giving up the game's first seven shots. But they got out of trouble with some help from Kari Lehtonen, and it was the Stars who ended up striking first as Tyler Seguin retook his spot atop the NHL's goal leaders with a nice shot through traffic off a face-off win.
Dallas made it 2-0 a few minutes later on a shorthanded goal. Cody Eakin made a nice play in neutral to find a breaking Jamie Benn, and while Benn's first pass on the ensuing 2-on-1 didn't get across, he showed good patience to bump the puck across again for a wide-open Eakin, who beat Crawford.
The Hawks then started to work their way back into the game, starting with a goal from Patrick Kane as Jamie Oleksiak missed a pass on the wall and got pulled out of position, leaving Ales Hemsky to try and defend the front of the net. Kane got lose for a rebound goal that cut the Stars lead in half.
Chicago tied the game late in the period after Jordie Benn was sent to the penalty box after a tap to Marian Hossa's stick launched it 40 feet into the netting. Brandon Saad was the benefactor of another rebound goal after the Hawks created plenty of pretty chances.
But Vernon Fiddler sent the Stars into the intermission with a lead, capitalizing on some great shifts from the fourth line.
The Stars started the second period well, but it was the Hawks who eventually tied the game as Brandon Saad picked up his second of the afternoon in transition, using a Stars player as a screen to disguise a low shot that went through Lehtonen.
But Lehtonen more than made up for it with some stellar stops the rest of the period, including a very nice glove save on Hossa on a Hawks power play. Chicago owned the end of the period on the shot clock, but Lehtonen got his team into the period tied at 3.
The ultra-rare second power play of the game in Chicago finally clicked for the Stars. After some trouble getting set up, Jamie Benn kept the puck in at the line and started a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play that went to Seguin and finally Eakin for the slam-dunk backdoor goal to put Dallas up 4-3.
Crawford made a series of nice stops as the teams continued to exchange transition chances, and it was the Stars who converted after Jason Spezza found Erik Cole with a nifty little pass on a 2-on-1 one for another quick goal.
The Stars mostly kept the Hawks at bay with a strong third period, though there was a brief flurry when Chicago first pulled the goalie. But after a first bid at the empty net hit the post, Shawn Horcoff put the game away for good with the empty net goal.
More thoughts from my sofa...
- That was one heck of an overall team effort. The Stars allowed just three shots in the final nine minutes of the third period after going up 5-3 and just five shots overall in the third, winning that period's shot battle 14-5. All four lines and three pairings played fairly evenly as well, indicating just how much of a group effort this one was.
- Also having a nice night was Lehtonen, who, even though he may want the Hawks third goal back, made some very large saves when the Stars were in trouble early in the first and late in the second. He ended up with 38 saves on 41 shots.
- According to the NHL's PR team, this is the first career multi-goal game for Cody Eakin. The Pitbulls line was, as per usual, a thorn in the Hawks side most of the night, and Eakin's net drive allowed for the extremely pretty go-ahead goal.
- Speaking of that go-ahead goal, it appears Jamie Benn is getting his groove back. He had three assists in the game but, more importantly, he is starting to make extremely nice passes and patient plays with the puck that were missing for the past few weeks. That play at the blue line on the power play goal showed great vision, and his possession skills were on display on the short-handed tally.
- Seguin is still having a few problems with the sights on his shot - there was a slightly-rolling puck early that he missed high as well as a great follow-up opportunity off a Colton Sceviour drive to the net, but his game-opening goal showed off that brilliant release, and his pass to Eakin on the power-play goal was wonderfully executed.
- Spezza's pass on Cole's goal was also all-world. Skill across multiple lines is such a wonderful weapon to have.
- The fourth line picked up two goals on the scoresheet (though Horcoff's game in the midst of a change, allowing Eakin to pick up his third point of the game) and had a nice outing as a unit. Fiddler deserves special recognition as he was playing like a man possessed during the stretches the Stars were trying to get their legs under them.
- There are plenty of negatives from this one - 41 shots, no matter how much you believe some of them, is far too many, and the rookie pair of Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak had some worrying moments as you might expect. The second period was owned by the Hawks and Lehtonen. But in all, you can't be too angry about much from this one given the result. The Stars are going to give up goals to talented teams - the question is always can they score their way out of that trouble. And today, at least, the answer was yes.