The Dallas Stars were home again tonight for their first of two Central Division meetings this week. The season has been a bit of a mixed bag, but the team is much more successful at home, looking for their 12th win tonight.
Their opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, are having about the same season they had last year, which is sure to earn them a really high draft pick in June and not much else. The erstwhile champions have three Stanley Cups in the last ten years but not much to show for it now but an aging core eating up a large percentage of their salary cap. And, obviously, their names on the Cup.
The big news for the Stars tonight is the return of John Klingberg, who missed 18 games with a broken hand. He began skating with the team this week after he was cleared for play.
The first period almost began with a welcome home goal from Klingberg, but Erik Gustafsson had the puck when Cam Ward did not. Which is very unfortunate, because the Stars didn’t have a bit of cushion two minutes into the opening period when Alex DeBrincat scored off a face-off in the Stars zone. Roman Polak served as an excellent screen that Ben Bishop couldn’t quite see around.
Stars and Blackhawks hockey is high event hockey. Neither team eats up puck movement and both teams have similar loosey-goosey defensive systems. The Stars led the shots on goal at the end of the period, but quality scoring chances favored Chicago, who had far too many odd man rushes in the first period for the Stars to be completely comfortable.
The penalties were evenly shared at one a piece. While the Stars weren’t able to make much of Jonathan Toews visiting the box for tripping, the Blackhawks were able to capitalize on Alexander Radulov’s ill advised slashing penalty.
Despite the score, this isn’t the road disasters of last week. The Stars had the shots on goal, the puck movement, and some of the necessary discipline. The Blackhawks began the game with a really lucky bounce off a face-off, and then capitalized on their control of the neutral zone, an area the Stars have struggled to master. Fewer turnovers for the Stars wouldn’t hurt in the second frame either.
Let’s get the spoilers out of the way first: despite a much more disciplined second period, the Stars still trail by two goals. But hey, at least it’s only two?
The Stars had more success carrying the puck through the neutral zone, but still managed to pass the puck straight to members of the opposing team with distressing regularity. And while they finally managed to get more quality scoring chances than the Blackhawks, they still allowed quite a few against.
They also had trouble breaking up the Blackhawks in the neutral zone, as on Patrick Kane’s goal early in the second. Artem Anisimov set the play up all the way back in the Blackhawks’ zone, bouncing it of the boards to Connor Murphy, who found Kane streaking towards the net. Stars coach Jim Montgomery spent some time on the net in an incredibly heated conversation with his players after this goal, which one can only hope was about the complete lack of any sort of challenge on this goal from the Stars players.
Kane is quick, but also important to note how completely the Stars gave up on this rush.
Seven minutes later the Stars got one back as Jamie Benn completely out-muscled Murphy behind the net, but this goal was really made possible by Denis Gurianov’s forecheck.
Either way, good effort by all three, and the Stars were finally on the board. This is the score they’d end the period with, mostly due to some really excellent goaltending from Ward.
Six minutes in the final frame, Benn set Radulov up for a goal. Radulov got the shot off but was stopped by Ward, who missed covering up the puck with his glove. Benn, from right in front of the net, got the puck over to Taylor Fedun, who was tied up with his own player in the net.
Benn creates a chance for Radulov, while Cam Ward tries to cover the puck. Taylor Fedun is there to dunk the puck home to get within one of the Blackhawks.— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) December 21, 2018
DAL 2 - 3 CHI pic.twitter.com/R7gLicx0mg
And then the lead was only one goal.
Tyler Pitlick nailed Murphy in the nose with his elbow. Murphy went down in the corner and stayed down for a bit, gushing a PG-13 rating amount of blood. It didn’t look like Pitlick had any idea Murphy was back there, just an unfortunate accident.
The Stars pulled their goalie with two minutes left. Jamie Benn got dumped in the Blackhawks zone, another Blackhawks player dumped the linesman, which distracted John Klingberg, who had the puck in the neutral zone. He turned it over and Kane netted his second of the game with no problem.
Off a late face off in the Blackhawks zone, the puck gets out to Brendan Perlini, who nets the second empty netter for Chicago. Thankfully, the Stars had put Bishop back in the net for the final odd man rush of the night from the Blackhawks, and the final score was 5-2.
The Stars are on the road on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is 7:00 PM CST.