Trailing by a full seven points and with four teams to jump, Lindy Ruff's bunch knows the score with just 11 contests remaining- And to their credit there's been no quit in their game.
Thursday night the team kicked off a virtually "must-win-out" stretch of hockey with a 2-1 out-lasting of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the AAC- Though they went the game's last 14:49 without recording a shot on goal and rarely had the puck in the right half of the ice.
Lindy Ruff explained in the post-game presser:
"I think because we've had some tough finishes here in the third period that we had some players that have to get through that, get through the apprehension and be able to make plays," Lindy Ruff told media Thursday night. "Tonight when we didn't make them and it went back our way. Kari stood tall for us."
Kari may be the team's only option when figuring out how they're going to stretch the possibility of a meaningful playoff race into mid-April- And everyone knows how that goes these days. But Lehtonen was solid Thursday after surrendering the cheap one to Letang in the second.
The Chicago Blackhawks arrive looking to out-battle their division rivals- The St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Just four points separate the three and with the league's divisional playoff format home ice advantage will be key among them. There is plenty to fight for here for the Hawks.
With 43 wins you might suspect Chicago has been pretty good anywhere they play. 22 wins at home. 21 on the road- Including that 3-2 shootout win on opening night here at the AAC, where they've not visited since.
Dallas went 1-1-1 in Chicago this season, allowing 14 goals in those three games.
Allowing such lofty offensive totals would mean death tonight- The Hawks have held their last 10 opponents to 0, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, 4, 0, and 2 goals. They pulled points in nine of those games and you can guess the one they lost (the four goals was to Tampa Bay).
That's stingy. 14 goals against in their last 10 games, and Corey Crawford has been lights out.
Chicago has won six of their last seven on the road and has held their opposition to under 30 SOG in six of those seven as well. Their power play is hot as well, connecting on 4 of its last 13 opportunities (31%).
They are pretty much infallible on paper and they're rolling right now. And oh yeah, that's without Patrick Kane.
Kane was injured on February 24th after colliding with the boards against the Panthers, breaking his clavicle. He had surgery and is on track to return after a total of 12 weeks, but will not play tonight- Not that it seems to matter much to the Blackhawks. They're 7-1-1 since his injury.
Here are their lines without him, or something similar that's been in use lately:
From Stars PR:
"IT'S 106 MILES TO CHICAGO... IT'S DARK AND WE'RE WEARING SUNGLASSES"
The Stars host the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night in the fifth and final contest scheduled between the two Central Division rivals this season. The Stars are 1-1-2 against Chicago so far in the 2014-15 campaign, and posted a 6-3 win in the last game against the Blackhawks on Jan. 18. The win marked the Stars' 100th victory over Chicago, marking the fourth time the club has reached the century mark against another NHL franchise. The Blackhawks (100) join Los Angeles (109), St. Louis (105) and Detroit (103). Five Stars come into Saturday's tilt tied for the team-lead with four points against Chicago this season, including forwards Cody Eakin (3-1=4), Jamie Benn (1-3=4) and Jason Spezza (0-4=4) and defensemen John Klingberg (0-4=4) and Alex Goligoski (0-4=4).