Red-hot Kane, Hawks visit Stars
BLACKHAWKS (26-9-3) at STARS (16-11-11)
: Chicago 8-2-0; Dallas 3-3-4.
: Dallas leads 1-0 after dealing Chicago a rare home defeat, 4-3, on Oct. 17.
: Patrick Kane
and the scorching Blackhawks will gun for their fourth straight win in Dallas, one of the few teams to knock off the Hawks this year in Chicago.
: Often as Kane goes so go the Hawks, and that concept seems to have been taken to an extreme recently. Kane was named the NHL's second star of the week Monday after tallying five goals and three assists in four games. Chicago won the last three of those with Kane notching the game-winner each time, a first for the Hawks since Murray Craven accomplished the feat in 1995. Kane's last goal may have been the most important, a shot past Nashville's Dan Ellis with 43.4 seconds left that capped a home-and-home sweep of Chicago's nearest competitor for the Central Division crown.
They goal may never have come to pass were it not for two momentum turning goals by John Madden earlier in the third period, but regardless of who was reponsible, Chicago now has a comfortable division lead. With offense like that there's no reason to feel uncomfortable, but the defense is pitching in, too. Blueliners Brian Campbell
and Duncan Keith
have combined for 16 points in their last seven games, but they've been strong both ways and both at home and on the road. The Hawks have given up two goals or fewer nine times in their last 10 games away from the United Center.
: The Stars are one of the few teams to keep Kane in check this season, holding him scoreless in their only meeting with the Hawks this year. Chicago struggled against Dallas' backup netminder Alex Auld, but they are unlikely to see him again. Auld has been in the net the last two games while starter Marty Turco has battled a flu bug that is making its way through the locker room, but with Turco feeling better he is expected to be in net Tuesday.
That may or may not be good news for the Stars. Turco is 1-2-1 with an unseemly 3.79 goals-against average. Turco, however, is not the only one struggling. While Dallas has not wanted for scoring -- Jamie Benn, for one, has three goals and an assist over the last five games -- the defense has given up more than 30 shots per game this year. The result has been a rough month for the Stars, who have won just four of 11 outings in December, but with the Western Conference standings remaining tight, Dallas is still on the cusp of the final playoff spot. A win against the League-leading Hawks could be the boost the Stars need to climb back into the top eight.
: Players don't get much hotter than Kane right now. The winger was named the NHL's second star of the week Monday after tallying five goals and three assists in Chicago's four games last week. He has six goals and seven assists in his last eight games overall. For Dallas, Loui Eriksson, who was named to the Swedish Olympic team this week, was held off the scoresheet Saturday against Colorado, but prior to that the winger had tallied 12 points during an eight-game streak.
: Chicago may be without Niklas Hjalmarsson
and Kris Versteeg, who are both questionable with flu-like symptoms. While the Hawks have some stability on their roster, Dallas' is completely in flux. Stephane Robidas is questionable with a facial injury, while Brenden Morrow and James Neal's statuses are uncertain due to flu-like symptoms. On the plus side for the Stars, Trevor Daley and Mark Fistric may both be activated after missing more than a week with various ailments.
: Chicago's torrid pace is giving the Windy City the best hockey team it has seen in a while. The Hawks have 55 points through their first 38 games, the most since the 1982-83 squad had 56 at the same point. That team finished would finish with 104 points and reach the Campbell Conference Finals, where it would be swept by Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers.
: With its division lead over Nashville suddenly doubled, Chicago is sitting pretty. That will make beating them a tall order for the Stars, particularly since the Hawks are likely to start Cristobal Huet
between the pipes. Huet has been among the League's best lately, going 3-1 with a 1.00 GAA in his last four starts. With Dallas in dire need of some points in the standings, the schedule is giving the Stars no breaks.