Any extended winning streak feels tenuous in the NHL. On any given night, a team can out-work, can out-strategize, can out-score, or out-goalie any other team. That’s where the Dallas Stars found themselves as they hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in a big divisional tilt in Big D.
They were riding a 10 game point streak heading into the contest, with a 12-1-1 mark in their last 14 games played. With the Colorado Avalanche loss earlier in the night, the Stars had the opportunity to take sole possession of 2nd place in the Central with a win tonight. But before you focus on the ones in front of you, you have to beat the ones behind you, which is where Chicago is right now. Taking two points would help continue building that cushion between the Stars and the rest of the field before the inevitable peak turns to a valley, as it will throughout the season.
That’s all the regular season is, after all — a series of peaks and valleys.
The Stars picked up right where they left off on Thursday night. Jamie Benn had a chance to extend his point streak with a wide open look at the net, but couldn’t get the puck to settle enough to get a good shot off. Corey Perry had another dangerous look. Radek Faksa too.
They were completely owning the slot area in front of the Blackhawks net. Every shift they hit the offensive zone, Dallas had two guys (sometimes even more) piled into the high danger scoring area on the ice. Robin Lehner, who had a sparkling .934 save percentage coming into the game, was more than up to the task.
Dallas gave the Blackhawks an early power play when Joe Pavelski committed a tripping. It was the first of two penalties by the veteran forward, with the second coming late in the second period. Dallas ended up being perfect on the penalty kill tonight, with most of the credit for that feat laying at the feet of Antoin Khudobin.
While Khudobin was busy being a super star at one end of the ice, the Stars did strike for the first goal of the game. It came off a John Klingberg point shot which appeared to redirect off of Pavelski’s stick, hit Roope Hintz’s shin pad, and into the net. Hintz was providing the screen on the play in which both players recorded a point in their first game back after extended time out of the lineup with injuries to the body. The puck popped in and out of the net so quickly that if you blinked, you missed it in real time.
Olli Maata tied the game over three minutes later off a broken play by Dallas that resulted in a 2-on-1 odd-man rush. The puck was slipped through the five hole of Khudobin, sending the Stars and Blackhawks to intermission with a tie game. In what was a fairly high event first period, the two teams put up a combined 28 shots on goal (16-12 in favor of Dallas).
The second period saw Chicago make some adjustments that severely limited the quality scoring chances they were allowing to Dallas in the first 20 minutes. They also clogged up the neutral zone better. Whereas the stretch passes through the middle of the ice were nearly foregone conclusions for Dallas to get an offensive zone entry in the first period, they were nearly non-existent in the second.
Head coach Jim Montgomery said after the game that his team also started turning pucks over, causing them not to get as much time on the offensive push as they had in the first period.
The majority of the period was slower than the first, and the goaltenders advanced their duel with each making key saves at points in the middle frame.
But no game in this stretch for Dallas has been the same as another, and the Stars found themselves in some penalty trouble to close out the period. After Pavelski got called for roughing just seven seconds into the team’s second power play chance of the night, Miro Heiskanen got called for just his second penalty of the year as Jonathan Toews played his body just right to get a holding call. Then Chicago got caught with too many men on the ice to change the personnel configurations once again.
What resulted was a 4-on-3 power play for Chicago to start the third period, followed by a 5-on-3 briefly before all penalties expired. It was a key moment for Dallas in the game, because allowing a goal during that stretch could have tipped the balance of the hockey gods’ karma scale considering what came later.
First there was a huge save made by Khudobin that combined athleticism and hockey intelligence to stop. On the ensuing mad scramble, in which Chicago put up about four shots on goal, the puck got under Khudobin and eventually the referees signaled a no goal. Chicago thought they had scored, but no angle showed a clear shot of the puck completely crossing the line, so the initial call stood. If we’re being honest here, it’s likely that it should have counted and Dallas skated by on a technicality.
But as Khudobin gracefully pointed out after the game, “Almost doesn’t count.”
That was the first of two goals waived off for Chicago. The second was immediately waived off after being played with a stick above the crossbar and redirecting off Khudobin’s glove and in. The resulting review upheld the call quickly, which is as it should have been. That one was pretty obvious.
Though the third period was a lot of Dallas tempting fate by playing a lot of it without the puck, the Stars hung on through the last minutes of regulation. By forcing overtime, they ensured that their point streak extended to 11 games.
HIGH EVENT HOCKEY. Heiskanen allowed a rare breakaway against, to Patrick Kane, but Khudobin stopped him with a good pad save. Chicago got caught with too many men on the ice for the second time of the game shortly thereafter, giving the Stars a power play with 2:31 remaining in the overtime frame.
Sadly, the power play continues to search for its energy source. The Stars were unable to capitalize, though they had a couple of good looks at it. It resulted in the inevitable in a game like tonight — the shootout.
Jim Montgomery after the game was asked about whether there’s anything that is said before the shootout, particularly as both Pavelski and Seguin went five hole. “Those two guys are great goal scorers,” he said in response. “I don’t talk to them about how they’re going to score goals.”
Here was Pavelski out there scoring goals:
The Stars are now on a 13-1-1 stretch. They’ve got points in 11 straight games. They now sit in sole possession of second place in the Central Division with 30 points in 24 games played. They have the second best goal differential (+11, behind the leading +12 held by the Colorado Avalanche).
That 1-7-1 record is firmly in the rearview mirror. Dallas is back in the thick of things. Eventually, they will lose again. But right now, they’ll take a six game winning streak as they continue a busy stretch of games early next week with a home contest versus the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night before going to Chicago to face these same Blackhawks again Tuesday night.
A few years ago, Elliotte Friedman noted that teams in playoff spots on American Thanksgiving were usually in the playoffs at the season end, with a few notable exceptions. In October, you could have said Dallas would be there and most Stars fans would have bet money they wouldn’t be.
Yet, here they are, on the doorstep of Thanksgiving and firmly in the playoff discussion. Good thing we didn’t take that bet last month.