A lot of us probably remember what it felt like to play the Blackhawks over much of the past eight years or so. At the very least, you might remember that 8-1 humiliation back in 2013. Once the Cup train got rolling, Chicago was a downright miserable opponent most nights. They had too many players whose names you knew from NHL on NBC, and a lot of those players tended to shut down the Stars. The goaltending was a bit shaky for a time, but then Corey Crawford finally took the net over and never looked back. The players in front of him took the ice with a vengeance as Stan Bowman remade the team and made his way around obstacle after obstacle to maintain preeminence in the Central Division.
“Chelsea Dagger” became a nightmare soundtrack for far too many Stars goaltenders during that time, and even last year, the Hawks swept the Stars in the season, 5-0. Chicago has been the insufferably more popular big brother of the West for far too long. What we’re saying is, there’s a reason Antoine Roussel was so pumped he taunted the United Center crowd a few years ago, and there’s a reason the Stars care so much about beating a last-place team.
There was a funny moment early when the broadcast used the phrase “another good keep by Pateryn” right as the play turned into a breakaway for Jonathan Toews, who scored to put the Hawks up 1-0. It just goes to show that good plays at the blue line are tough to make, and Pateryn got the puck caught in his skates, and ended up turning it over while Toews got in behind him and Dan Hamhuis. But this wouldn’t be the only defensive miscue for the Stars, oh no. Not by a long shot.
It almost became 2-0 Hawks after another Pateryn miscue, when he fanned on a breakout pass and turned the puck over. Thankfully, Toews wasn’t able to handle the Alex DeBrincat pass, and the Stars stayed within one. Razor pointed out how later on, Pateryn didn’t pinch to keep the puck in the zone when maybe he could have, but Pateryn’s game settled down as the night went on, and good thing; the Stars would need him.
As we said, puck insecurity was a team-wide issue in the first, and you wonder if the Stars were a bit out of sorts when the Hawks showed up ready to send F3 deep into the attacking zone from the outset. Certainly John Klingberg’s delay of game penalty and a Seguin defensive zone turnover were not wholly uncharacteristic of the team’s play early, and Julius Honka committed an ugly turnover of his own to Ryan Hartman in the slot when he probably needed to just be more patient and retreat behind his net. It’s been a tough year for Honka, but mistakes like that are a lot more forgivable if you’ve shown you can be relied on for a while. Right now, teams seem to be expecting Honka to try the fancier play, and it’s backfired on him a few times recently.
As for the rest of the team’s early jitters, Jason Spezza failed to dunk Devin Shore’s great setup from behind the net, somehow, and you wondered if maybe these Hawks had another Dallas disappointment in them...but shortly thereafter, Tyler Seguin did not fail to dunk a Rather Typical Alexander Radulov Setup (which came off a deft Seguin tip across the blue line to begin with) to get things going. Given the frustration that was starting to mount, that goal felt like a pressure release valve had been blown wide open. Something else was apparently deactivated with the Blackhawks at the same time, as a floating Johns shot from the point dipped over a screened Forsberg to give the Stars the lead. My two personal favorite things about this goal were how quickly Johns got the puck on net, and the immediate fist bump from the bench Jamie Benn gave Johns. Games can change really quickly, it turns out.
(Also, my secret not-personal favorite thing about that second goal was that it was scored by Johns against his old team, which now has Patrick Sharp on it, again.)
The game’s intensity ramped up alongside the Stars’ scoring, as a rough hit by Sharp (!) on Julius Honka kinda from behind (?!) into the turnbuckle (?!?) started some back-and-forth, only to have the Hawks go right back on the power play when an overexcited Radulov got sent to the box for getting a little too handsy as he tried to make way through the crowd. It was not the Stars’ night for getting calls, as it tends to be for any team visiting United Center.
The hit would send Honka out of the game after undergoing concussion protocol, presumably, and Honka worked out his frustration with his formerly intact hockey stick on his way down the tunnel. So, I don’t have a great guess what was going on there, but the vague “upper body injury” that the Stars released isn’t very optimal at all. It was not one of Honka’s better games, to put it lightly. The thing to watch now—after his health, of course—is whether that frustration will be channeled into his play or not. Time will tell, as time does. Hitchcock has said players don’t lose their spot due to injury in the past, but I think Methot’s injury has higher Wally Pipp priority or something, so it’s all a bit complicated. Either way, It’ll surely be Dillon Heatherington in against Pittsburgh.
It was a fortunate bounce that gave the Hawks their second goal, but good puck movement got the Stars mostly stationary, and then Artem Anisimov collected the end boards bonus to beat Bishop. That goal reminded me of too many Detroit goals at Joe Louis Area, and now I am realizing that all the old villains of my hockey youth are slowing down and disappearing. I guess we’ll always have Anaheim.
The Stars’ third goal was never certain, but it was a thing of beauty for John Klingberg and Tyler Pitlick, and a catastrophe for Duncan Keith and Anton Forsberg. Klingberg made a brilliant play at the defensive point to foil Keith’s attempt to get the puck deep, and after Klingberg collected the puck and rushed the other way, he fed Pitlick, who wound up and sent the puck off Keith’s outstretched stick and past a bewildered Forsberg. It was decidedly not how Chicago wanted to go into the second intermission, I am guessing. It was also some rather amazing defense by Klingberg, and pay attention here, national media folks: it was a great defensive play that led to offense. The two are linked, it seems. Klingberg also laid a solid hip check tonight for good measure, so honestly, I guess you just give him a trophy right now, eh?
Martin Hanzal hit two posts in this one, which is impressive for someone who looked seriously hurt at one point. In the first, Hanzal won a battle in front of Anton Forsberg, only to chip the post paint with his equalizing effort. Later in the second, Martin Hanzal was hit by a Brett Ritchie shot in the side of the knee, and he went down immediately, quite limp. It was a scary moment, and Hanzal looked gone for the game, but it turned out that he just got deadlegged, which explains how limp he went. He returned for the third period and hit the pipe again on his first shift of the period—and from another nice feed from Devin Shore, no less, who probably deserved more for his efforts tonight.
Chicago would return the post later in the third, when a wide-open net was yawning at Tommy Wingels, but he somehow sent the rebound off the far post and wide, which was impressive in its own right, if not perhaps amusing to Joel Quenneville, who has probably lost much of his sense of humor this season.
And finally, let no one say Jamie Benn doesn’t stand up for his mates, as he gave Tommy Wingels the ol’ Present Your Dukes, Good Sir after Wingels leveled Radulov on his way out of the zone. It seemed like a fine hit, if a bit cynical, and Wingels was having none of Benn’s aggression, so the players were parted with little animus displayed other than Benn’s bare hands hanging at his side. Two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct seemed harsh for Benn, considering he was waiting for his dueling partner to choose the weapons, as gentlefolk ought to do. The Stars took four penalties Thursday, and they were by Benn (2), Klingberg, and Radulov. Benn’s unsportsmanlike penalty was understandable, given the situation and context of the weird machismo code these days, but his and Radulov’s high stick penalties were reckless, and could have turned this game into something very different, if not for Ben Bishop.
Okay, let’s rattle off some final quick hits of players who stood out tonight:
Well, how about Ben Bishop? After Jeff Reese apparently dazzled Ken Hitchcock with some “analytics” about why Bishop would be the better choice to start vs. Chicago, Hitch listened (though he may have done so a tad begrudgingly, if I’m reading into the inflection in “quite frankly” within this video correctly, which is absolutely an exact science, don’t worry). Bishop seemed to validate these magical numbers, making several key stops and never getting too far out of position. I’d say he outdueled Forsberg at the other end, but when you give up a goal on a 60-foot wrister, you’ve probably outdueled yourself. The backup goalie curse appears to be lifting, knock on fiberglass.
/knocks on fiberglass
/Dave Jackson appears out of nowhere in a cloud of video review tablets
“DALLAS PENALTY, TWO MINUTES FOR SLASHING.”
All that to say, Bishop was outstanding again Thursday, and the Stars needed it. His calm was contagious, and that was key when the Stars had to lock down a lead for 20 minutes with only five defensemen.
Dan Hamhuis and Stephen Johns also had wonderful nights in Chicago. (Esa Lindell is probably someone I should mention at some point, but the dude’s like a phantom in how he goes about his business, so I’ll keep waiting for him to score again or something.) Hamhuis consistently battled and mostly won while playing 21+ minutes, which is no small task against a quick, skilled team like Chicago. He rotated partners a bit while eating the most defensive zone starts of anyone, and he really did just seem to enjoy playing the uptempo game.
Johns, however, seemed downright vindictive, laying hits and taking shots wherever he could. He also had a bit of that Honka derring-do tonight, but his couple of cough-ups were minor, and were immediately cleaned up. It’s remarkable, as Wes said earlier this week, how quickly Johns has moved from someone who couldn’t turn the coach’s eye to a guy playing well on his offhand side with mostly rookies. Johns looked every bit like someone who wanted to remind his old team that maybe their contract issues cost them more than just a couple years of Patrick Sharp.
Tyler Pitlick also got a Three Stars mention tonight, and his line (with Faksa and Roussel) certainly deserved something like that. There’s no replacement for a good, strong, fast checking line that can score. Well, there are replacements, but not many better ones, I mean. They are good. I am saying they are good, even if they did get hemmed in a few times tonight. Faksa and Roussel’s dogged puck pursuit was largely successful in terms of preventing the highest quality chances, and that’s good enough in the situation, I suppose. Make do with what you have.
The Penguins are roaring back into the conversation again, as repeating Cup champions are wont to do, and the Stars get the privilege of flying back from Chicago late at night to face them. Pittsburgh late played Tuesday, so that is a distinct disadvantage and all that. But hey, the old guard is starting to fade at last, and the Pens might be closer to moving into that category than they think. That’s a different article, I suppose.