Recap: Stars Rout the Blackhawks to Clinch Postseason Berth
This one was close for 10 minutes, then the Stars dismantled the Hawks 6-2 to claim a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Going into the game against the Blackhawks, the Stars knew what was in front of them. If Dallas was able to win the game, they qualified for the playoffs. There were other tangent results that could get them into the postseason, but if the beat Chicago they were in.
Apparently, the Stars knew what was on the line and played accordingly. The Stars strolled into the United Center and embarrassed the Blackhawks beating them 6-2.
It started like a playoff game, but ended in a blowout. The game was competitive for about 10 minutes and then the Stars blew the door open. The Hawks continued their slide in March, and Dallas left no doubt.
The first period began with a slow roll, as both teams started to feel each other out. It felt like a playoff game in the sense that both teams established a physical presence and the shot totals were low.
The Hawks came close when Jordie Benn hit Andrew Ladd with a centering pass (you read that right), but Kari Lehtonen was equal to the task.
With 8 minutes to play in the first, the line of Vernon Fiddler, Colton Sceviour, and Brett Ritchie had a heck of a shift. First, after a scramble behind the net, Sceviour threw a puck in off of Darling from behind the icing line. It was one of those goals where all you could do was shrug your shoulders and say, "well, we will take it".
The fourth line stayed on the ice and scored another goal within 25 seconds. Ritchie did some grunt work behind the net and Sceviour found the puck and in one motion backhanded it out front to Fiddler. He made no mistake and fired the puck past the befuddled Darling.
Later in the period the Stars went on the powerplay. Patrick Eaves was on the receiving end of a pass from Jamie Benn. Eaves got the puck off quickly and was allowed the space to lean into the shot from the ladies' tees.
The Stars weren't done in the first, but this time it was on the other side of special teams. The Hawks went on the powerplay and Fiddler pounced on a puck that jumped over Duncan Keith's stick. Fiddler was off to the races and patiently out-waited Darling on his backhand. Fiddler had two goals, and the Stars were up 4-0 at the end of the first period. Darling was chased, and the crowd booed the Hawks off the ice at the break.
The second period started slowly as the Stars appeared willing to pack it in and strike on the counter-attack. Chicago finally broke the seal late in the second as Andrew Shaw batted a puck into the net off of a rebound. The Stars were able to answer shortly thereafter as Radek Faksa notched his second goal of the season on a 2 on 1. It was a gorgeous shot that beat Michael Leighton to his near upper-90.
The final frame saw the Hawks score a "cosmetic" goal about halfway through the period. But the Hawks couldn't even enjoy that as Cody Eakin scored an empty netter with 6 minutes to play. It didn't matter. The final score was 6-2 Dallas, and it was barely that close.
A side story to all the goal scoring was Kari Lehtonen's performance in net. After pitching a shutout against the Islanders on Saturday, Lehtonen saved 30 of 32 shots on the road against the Hawks. He was absolutely fabulous. He made difficult saves, he made vintage-Lehtonen athletic saves, and generally controlled rebounds. Lehtonen appears to be getting hot, and Stars' fans couldn't be happier.
Dallas still has plenty of work to do to tie up the Central Division and the first overall seed in the Western Conference, but they just keep winning. Without their second best player in Tyler Seguin and pivotal role players like Mattias Janmark, Kris Russell, and Jason Demers, Dallas appears to be playing their best hockey of the season.
Part/Most of the reason for the team's success has been attributable to the goaltending. Kari Lehtonen has looked like circa 2012 Lehtonen, and has given the team an excellent back stop. Lehtonen's great work to go with a shot blocking and disciplined defending has allowed the team to blossom. The Stars will be hoping to continue their roll on Thursday against the Coyotes. Dallas will try to win their fourth in a row, as the journey toward the postseason continues. This team is good.