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The Dallas Stars appear headed to another playoff appearance this season, but perhaps the addition of a Conn Smythe Trophy winner will help them to their first Stanley Cup title since 1999.
Brad Richards looks to help the Stars keep moving toward that goal as he makes his debut on Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Stars (40-22-5) have enjoyed plenty of overall success since moving to Dallas in 1993, winning seven division titles and the lone Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Pacific Division leaders, though, have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs each of the last three seasons.
To try and get them past the opening round for the first time since 2003, the Stars look to Richards, who was acquired on Tuesday with goaltender Johan Holmqvist from Tampa Bay for goalie Mike Smith, forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern and a future draft pick.
Richards had 18 goals and 51 points for the Lightning, who are last in the Eastern Conference. Two seasons ago, he posted career highs with 68 assists and 91 points. But Richards was instrumental when Tampa Bay won its only Stanley Cup in 2004, earning playoff MVP honors with seven game-winning goals and a team-high 26 points in 23 postseason games.
"It's a lot different attitude here than where I'm coming from, knowing pretty much you're not going to be in the playoffs," said Richards, who waived his no-trade clause to join Dallas. "It's exciting. You want those things on the line. No guarantees, but I'm confident I can help this team."
Richards joins a high-powered offense that includes leading scorer Mike Ribeiro (73 points) and captain Brenden Morrow (62). Ribeiro and Morrow also are tied for the team lead with 26 goals each.
On Tuesday, Ribeiro had two assists, but Dallas received another boost from Loui Eriksson, who scored twice in a 3-1 win over St. Louis. Eriksson has five goals in his last three games.
"I've just tried to go to the net more," said Eriksson, who recorded his second straight two-goal game. "I'm playing with two great guys, Ribeiro and Morrow, and they feed some good pucks in front and I just try to build my game. It's fun now and we're winning now, so that's good."
The Stars have won three straight to improve to 12-2-0 since Jan. 29. That surge has moved them within five points of the league-leading Red Wings.
Dallas has won five of its last six at American Airlines Center to improve to 20-10-2 there. Only New Jersey and Detroit have more home wins (21).
Chicago, though, is 2-1-0 versus Dallas in 2007-08, and looks to win the season series for the first time since it went 4-0-0 with two ties in 1995-96, when both teams were in the Central.
Patrick Lalime made 32 saves for his 35th career shutout - and first since Feb. 7, 2007 - to lead the Blackhawks to a 1-0 victory over Phoenix on Wednesday. Jason Williams scored the lone goal on a deflection in the first period for Chicago, which is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games.
The Blackhawks (30-27-6) are tied for last in the division, and six points behind Colorado and Nashville, which are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Chicago hasn't been to the postseason since 2001-02.
"To make the playoffs and be a good playoff team you have to step up," defenseman James Wisniewski said. "You have to win 1-0 games. It's good he (Lalime) stepped up to the challenge."
Lalime, who started his third straight game in place of Nikolai Khabibulin (back spasms), beat Dallas 2-1 on Oct. 13, but is 4-5-0 with a 3.07 goals-against average in nine career meetings.