The Dallas Stars put together a full team effort – even with so many key team members sidelined. Five different players scored and Kari Lehtonen went into administrator mode as the team first chased a Vezina contender from the net, then a wave of red jerseys from the stands, in a (sometimes literally) smashing 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The first seven minutes were marked by much rapid, even jittery back-and-forth and about two actual shots on goal for each team, until Patrik Nemeth took the first penalty of the game for a slash on Marian Hossa. Seven seconds from a clean kill, Johnny Oduya knocked a puck over the glass and went off for delay of game. Lehtonen robbed Artemi Panarin at close range during the 5-on-3 in one of his first major saves of the match, and with 20 second left in the Oduya penalty, Andrew Shaw went off for tripping Nemeth.
Once the 4-on-4 expired, everything got all Speznasty. Jason Spezza continued his power-play streak and drew first blood with a sizzler from the point; Jamie Benn got the lone assist. Not long after, Panarin rang a shot off Lehtonen's crossbar just before the under-8 media timeout. It was the last time the Hawks got close in the first period.
The Stars got their second power play when Tomas Fleischmann fell down on a puck and tripped Mattias Janmark trying to get it back. On the PP, Ales Hemsky came in at light speed and got thisclose to finishing the job, only for Corey Crawford to stop the puck just before it crossed the line. Valeri Nichushkin nearly scored off an Alex Goligoski rebound but came up empty as well.
With 1:36 left in the period, Dale Weise took a third Chicago penalty for boarding Hemsky, but the first period ended before the Stars could score again on the man advantage. The period ended with Dallas up 1-0 in goals and 12-1 in hits.
Antoine Roussel wasted no time winding up the Blackhawks in the second period with a dirty goal from in front of the net off a Goligoski pass from behind the net; Hemsky got the secondary assist. Vern Fiddler took a tripping penalty on Christian Ehrhoff, but at this point the Stars were in the killing business full time. Lehtonen denied a deadly chance from Artem Anisimov before Jamie Benn lobbed a Gossamer Saucer (™ Daryl "Razor" Reaugh) to Cody Eakin for a gorgeous short-handed near-miss.
Tyler Seguin served a donut, and it was delicious. Once again, Spezza was there to make things happen and got the assist, which also marked his 800th NHL point. (You may not be able to handle this much Spezza.)
After the Hawks killed off an Andrew Ladd penalty midway through the period, Benn got a fantastic chance in close, but he would have to wait until Patrick Kane got busted for cross-checking Cody Eakin and the Stars power play went back on the job. The Captain finally broke his scoring drought right in front of the net due to a nifty no-look pass from BFF Seguin with a secondary assist from Patrick Eaves. This goal not only got JaBenn back into the goals column but also chased Crawford out of the net. Scott Darling would finish the game for Chicago.
Jonathan Toews tried mightily to get the Hawks on the board with a breakaway, but Lehtonen stoned him at point-blank range in his most #SassyKari save of the night. Chicago finally broke the shutout with less than seven minutes left in the second off a close shot from Teuvo Terevainen with assists from Fleischmann and Erik Gustafsson. With 3:36 left, the Hawks got another PP off Eaves elbowing Teravainen. But the Stars came up with another great kill against the league's number-one power play.
Gustafsson took the final Chicago penalty of the third with a delay-of-game at 8:20, but the Stars' power play didn't convert. A desperate Joel Quenneville pulled Darling after the media timeout to go 6-on-5, but this time Kari denied Teravainen from the left circle and kept the puck out of the net through several faceoffs in his own zone. Finally, a persistent Hemsky reaped rewards for his hard-fought game when he won empty-net roulette with an assist from Oduya.
Eakin took the Stars' final penalty after hooking Teravainen, but you know the end of this by now. Fleischmann got the Hawks' second, final and controversial goal with less than a minute to go after Weise clearly appeared to interfere with Lehtonen in the blue paint. Lindy Ruff challenged, the call stood, but by then it no longer mattered.
Stephen Johns looked calm and sturdy during his NHL debut. He also laid some nice hits and looked like the kind of Very Big Defender starter kit fans have clamored for. Kris Russell was also noticeable in good ways, doing a great job on the Stars' wildly successful special teams, both PK and PP. Rous channeled his finely tuned Hawks hate into one of his best games so far this year, whether scoring, forechecking or on the faceoff.
This team looks good. This team looks – dare we say it – ready to do some damage in the playoffs. Enjoy the feeling.